Walking with Dickens – a map of the Thames.

The mist hangs above the dark water in layers of yellow and grey and all you can hear are the muffled bells of a 10 o’clock Sunday and the rhythmic splash of dipping oars.  This is the world of Dickens’ Thames – a world of prison ships and opium dens, of ferrymen and thieves, damp dark taverns and the smell of the river and fog. Follow the walking trails on my latest map (for The Literary Map Company) and experience those same watery sights and stories found in Dickens’ novels from Vauxhall Bridge in the West to Limehouse in the East.


This has been one of the most interesting map projects I’ve completed for a while – mainly because I was reminded what a great writer Dickens was. The map is dotted with paragraphs from his novels alongside vignettes from the original 19th century magazines they were published in – each text is a beautiful gem of prose. Pass the location of Old London Bridge and read about the spot where David Copperfield sat and overlooked the river there. Walk down the steps by ‘new’ London Bridge and imagine the murder of poor Nancy (from Oliver Twist). Stop for a pint at The Grapes, one of the oldest pubs in London and the probable location of a tavern mentioned in Our Mutual Friend…Perhaps you’ll even be inspired to read an entire novel by Dickens overlooking the river there…

As always, the geek in me revels in a chance to research and explore a time that isn’t my own – kind of like travelling I always think (see my last post)….. For this map, I enjoyed looking at old 19th century prints for illustration reference and washed the Thames with numerous watercraft; row boats, London barges, steamers and tall ships.


The map is bordered with river debris and I spent time trawling through mudlarking sites online for ideas. To clarify, mudlarks are people who scavenge the muddy river shoreline for treasures, from clay pipes to broken pots and lost jewellery. Historically it was done to survive but nowadays there is still a community who mudlark for interest.

Victorian mudlarks.

The cover itself was based on the original magazine covers from the 1830s onwards. I used the same duck egg blue and border device to hold the title text.


The buildings in the background on my cover were referenced from an old print of Thames dwellings – poor and damp, very different from the smart riverside residencies of today.  And those changes are forever interesting. I haven’t had a chance to walk the routes yet but when I do, the map will add a little time travelling filter to my journey. The familiar tourist boats will transform into wooden sailboats; those fancy bankside offices will return to their original warehouse states spilling out barrels and boxes and shouting men; the clear view downriver will, without doubt, be clouded with yellowish fog….

This small blue map will take me on a walk, not only along the Thames as we see it today but also along the historical Thames. And of course, it offers another dimension too. It’s a map of an imagined Thames from a very particular mind – showing us a Thames peopled with fictional characters, their voices and experiences.   In this map, we are guided along a ‘vision’ of the river by one of the most revered authors in British literature, combining huge imagination with factual geography and social comment and whose stories still culturally inform our idea of the place today.

Maps and prints are available to buy from The Literary Map Company website and select retailers.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ros Connelly says:

    Your post is a really atmospheric evocation of the river in Dickens’ time – as are your illustrations on the map: a wonderful blend of the old and new, literally and artistically reflecting the river then and now. The Literary Map Company could not be more pleased with such a beautiful artefact. Thank you Helen.

    1. Thanks Ros! It’s been a pleasure to work with you and I can’t wait to get up to London and walk the walk!

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