It’s a cold day, hovering somewhere between blue and grey, in early December. I’ve come to walk the route on the map I illustrated of London as described in ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. The map, commissioned and published by The Literary Map Company comprises two walks and takes the curious explorer past historic sites of banks, prisons and poor houses, old taverns glowing yellow in the gloom and the alleys and courts alluded to in Dickens’ classic novel. I won’t describe the entire walk here – you can see that on the map itself – but written below are definitely my ‘Christmas Carol’ highlights….
It starts at Bank underground station – heart of the London banking district for centuries and apt as so many of Dickens’ novels revolve around money.
One of the first instructions was to dive down the hidden passageways around Change Alley. In some places, it’s still lit with lamps, even during the daytime, and peppered with pubs like The George and Vulture Tavern – an atmospheric 18th century chop house which bankers often frequent and Dickens himself used to visit.
The twisty medieval streets were fascinating to wander and it was easy to imagine Scrooge’s cold counting house. Despite the more contemporary blocks built in some places, the echoes seem old and it also wasn’t difficult to find austere towering buildings that could pass for Scrooge’s house. Maybe Marley’s Ghost still roams here somewhere, rattling his chains and dragging his money boxes. These alleyways were dark and silent on the whole, apart from the doorways of pubs swarming with revelling finance workers. A strange jarring to the many Christmasses of the past here, full of fog and soot and poverty just as Dickens describes.
Coming into the light on Cornhill and you find a busy road (on a weekday), now full of petrol fumes and taxis. The map though, asks you to see it as if from another time – a London weirdly lit with the pale blue and scent of snow and an iced-over Cornhill which Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s faithful employee, slides down after work. We stopped for a drink at The Counting House – stuffed with red faced bankers full of Friday afternoon jollity and it wasn’t hard to imagine how a little snow might encourage them to do the same…
Just off Cornhill is Leadenhall Market, a grand old Victorian Lady, still proudly dressed in fine crimson paintwork and faceted glass. The Christmas lights were twinkling, the place was merry in red and green and full of fancy shops and restaurants. It’s mentioned in ‘A Christmas Carol’ as a poulterers’ market though and this was its history as far back as Roman times. Stories cling to it somehow and the place is coloured by tales of Dick Whittington and ‘Old Tom’, ( an escaped goose who, having survived slaughter, died aged 38 and was buried in state on the site… ). There’s a feeling of jolly abundance here and I’m sure that the Ghost of Christmas Present would be very happy with it all.
One of the last stops on the first walk was St Peter upon Cornhill’s churchyard, a tiny cramped square of grey-green overshadowed by the church tower. The light was dimming and the determined mizzle had really started to get to me. In the corner sat a man bent over looking at his phone. He wore a black hoodie – his hood up and covering his face, wierdly reminiscent of the Ghost of Christmas to Come. This must surely have been the place that spirit made his last stop with Scrooge…
We continued on the second walk which follows the route Bob Cratchit took home to Camden. It passes the Royal Exchange, the Old Bailey, Bart’s Hospital and the historic sites of gaols, workhouses and slums, (now thankfully gone) – a chance to see the ghost of a London that Dickens wrote so much about in his novels. The walk ends on a high note though, at the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street which always celebrates Christmas in true Victorian style.
It was dark now, although still early. Tired and cold, my friends and I headed to some warmth and cheer, to steaming sausages and mash and to a glass or two of wine. And as togetherness is a gift to savour and be grateful for and, it could be argued, is the true spirit of Christmas, I’m pretty sure Dickens would have approved…
A Walk with Charles Dickens through a Christmas Carol can be bought from The Literary Map Company. The route and accompanying text on the map were created by Dickens expert, Ros Connelly. Some photographs kindly offered by Janet Seabrook.