A Literary Tour of Charles Dickens's Greenwich
Extract from:- Walter Dexter's THE LONDON OF DICKENS - THE
(London: Cecil Palmer, 1923)
Reproduced by kind permission of the
House Museum, London
This extract covers the various writings of Charles Dickens and the areas of
Greenwich, and surrounding districts, Dickens used:
From David Copperfield
For anything I know, I may have had some wild idea of running all the way to
Dover when I gave up the pursuit of the young man with the donkey-cart and
started for Greenwich. My scattered senses were soon collected as to that point,
if I had; for I came to a stop in the Kent Road, at a terrace with a piece of
water before it, and a great foolish image in the middle blowing a dry shell.
Here I sat down on a door-step, quite spent and exhausted with the efforts I had
already made, and with hardly breath enough to cry for the loss of my box and
The water and the "image" have disappeared from the gardens some
thirty years. (I.E. about 1895)
We bear to the right into the Old Kent Road. On the right a new building has
replaced the old Deaf and Dumb Establishment to which Dr. Marigold took his
Sophy for tuition. Somewhere in the Old Kent Road was the shop where David sold
the first portion of his wardrobe.
The master of this shop was sitting at the door in his
shirt-sleeves, smoking; and as there were a great many coats and pairs of
trousers dangling from the low ceiling, and only two feeble candles burning
inside to show what they were, I fancied that he looked like a man of a
revengeful disposition, who had hung all his enemies, and was enjoying
Our Mutual Friend
In this neighbourhood too was no doubt situated Bradley Headstone's School in
Our Mutual Friend.
Down in that district of the flat country tending to
the Thames, where Kent and Surrey meet, and where the railways still bestride
the market-gardens that will soon die under them. The schools were newly
built, and there were so many like them all over the country that one might
have thought the whole were but one restless edifice with the locomotive gift
of Aladdin's palace.
It is some three or four miles to Greenwich, and we can take a conveyance the
whole length of the Old Kent Road to New Cross, and then through Deptford to
We alight at Greenwich Church, where Bella was married to John Rokesmith; or,
as Dickens puts it,
"the church porch, having swallowed up Bella Wilfer
for ever and ever, had it not in its power to relinquish that young woman but
slid into the happy sunlight Mrs. John Rokesmith instead."
Church Street continued leads to the River, where on the left is the Ship
Hotel so full of memories of two delightful chapters in Our Mutual Friend, the
first prior to the marriage, when Bella commanded Pa to
"take this lovely woman out to dinner."
"Where shall we go, dear?"
The little room overlooking the river into which they
were shown for dinner was delightful. Everything was delightful. The park was
delightful, the punch was delightful, the dishes of fish were delightful, the
wine was delightful.
And then, as they sat looking at the ships and
steamboats making their way to the sea with the tide that was running down,
the lovely woman imagined all sorts of voyages for herself and Pa.
Later on we read:
The marriage dinner was the crowning success, for what
had bride and bridegroom plotted to do, but to have and to hold that dinner in
the very room of the very hotel where Pa and the lovely woman had once dined
together ! . . . What a dinner! Specimens of all the fishes that swim in the
sea surely had swum their way to it. . . And the dishes, being seasoned with
Bliss-an article which they are sometimes out of at Greenwich-were of perfect
flavour. . . . Never-to-he-forgotten Greenwich !
Returning to the Church, we turn left along Nelson Street, and then first to
the right takes us to Greenwich Park, to which a chapter in the Sketches is
The chief place of resort in the day-time . . . is the
Park, in which the principal amusement is to drag young ladies up the steep
hill which leads to the Observatory, and then drag them down again, at the
very top of their speed, greatly to the derangement of their curls and
bonnet-caps, mid much to the edification of the lookers-on from below.
The road straight ahead, and bearing to the left takes us to the Observatory.
The road to the right from the Observatory
takes us out of the Park,
across a small portion of the Heath into the Shooter's Hill Road, where we turn
Seven Poor Travellers
Blackheath was very well known to Dickens, and, as the railway from London to
Greenwich was the first one built in London, it afforded him the opportunity of
taking train for part of the journey, such as lie describes in the concluding
portion of the Seven Poor Travellers - in his walk from Rochester to London.
Thus Christmas begirt me, far and near, until I had
come to Blackheath, and had walked down the long vista of gnarled old trees in
Greenwich Park, and was being steam-rattled through the mists now closing in
once more, towards the lights of London.
When little David Copperfield was sent to school it was to Salem House
"down by Blackheath . . . a square brick building
with wings, of a bare and unfurnished appearance." The identity of the
school has never been discovered. After his mother died, David was taken from
the school and put to work in the bottle warehouse; from this he ran away and
walked to Dover. After a hard day's work, he tells us how he "came climbing
out at last upon the level of Blackheath. It cost me some trouble to find out
Salem House, but I found it, and I found a haystack in the corner and I lay down
John Rokesmith and his wife, in Our Mutual Friend, had "a modest little
cottage, but a bright and a fresh," on Blackheath.
The main road now ascends Shooter's Hill and we have thoughts of
"that Friday night in November, one thousand seven
hundred and seventy-five,"
when the Dover Mail
"lumbered up Shooter's Hill . . . and the guard
suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard,
they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the
For a full account of that spirited ride, the reader is referred to the second
chapter (The Mail) of
Tale of Two Cities
In the Holly Tree Cobbs informs us that:
"Master Harry Walmers's father lived at the
Elmses, down away by Shooter's Hill there, six or seven miles from Lunnon,"
... in Pickwick
LVII - In which the Pickwick Club is finally dissolved, and everything
concluded to the satisfaction of everyone ) we remember that this elder Weller
retired on a handsome independence to:
" an excellent public-house near Shooter's Hill,
where he is quite reverenced as an oracle."
Sunday under Three Heads
A reference is made in Sunday under Three Heads to the ruined Severndroog
Castle - built by Lady Janies in 1784 - on the summit of the hill.
Away they go . . . to catch a glimpse of the rich cornfields and
beautiful orchards of Kent ; or to stroll among the fine old trees of
Greenwich Park, and survey the wonders of Shooter's Hill and Lady James's