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Celebrate Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday

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2012 will be the year of so many celebrations in the UK and the one I’m enjoying already is the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens. The bicentenary of his birth (7 February 1812) is being celebrated across the world throughout the year so I thought I’d highlight some ideas for the places Dickens knew so well: London and Kent.

Old Curiosity Shop

It’s surprisingly easy to find Dickens locations in London as he lived in the city for many years. Dickens functioned well on little sleep and regularly went for walks all night so he knew the streets, and those who lived there, and he listened keenly. His novel’s characters seem more real as he wrote using their accents and vocabularly. This small book lists many locations as a self-guided walk which includes the Old Curiosity Shop and the Charles Dickens Coffee Shop which is on the ground floor of a building in Covent Garden where he lived and worked for many years. The only surviving London residence of this great Victorian novelist is at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury which is now the Charles Dickens Museum. The museum holds the world’s most important Dickens collection with over 100,000 artifacts including manuscripts and personal items.

There’s currently an exhibition at the British Library about Charles Dickens and The Supernatural and the BFI has a Dickens on Screen film series. But the best exhibition of them all right now is Dickens and London at the Museum of London. I spent two hours there on my first visit and hope to return before it closes in June.

Charles Dickens in his study, 1859 by William Powell Frith, London, © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Outside of London, Kent has strong connections with Dickens and you can visit Dickens World, an indoor complex based around the life, books and times of Charles Dickens. You feel like you’ve stepped back into Dickensian England with the Great Expectations Boat Ride, the chance to experience a real Victorian school or take a look in The Haunted House of 1859.

Charles Dickens’ father worked at Chatham docks so as a young boy he knew it well. Historic Dockyard Chatham is now a leading maritime heritage destination with the largest concentration of iconic buildings and historic ships in the UK.

Rochester Guildhall appears in Great Expectations as the establishment where Pip is bound as an apprentice. There is a free museum and a number of rooms are dedicated to Dickens for visitors. Restoration House, also in Rochester, was Dickens’ inspiration for the famous house of Miss Haversham in Great Expectations, where she sat dressed in her faded wedding gown. The house and gardens are open in the summer months.

Keeping with the Great Expectations theme, St James’ Church in Cooling is the location of the famous opening chapter where Pip meets the convict Magwitch. The little lozenge-shaped graves which Pip stood beside can still be seen now. Do go inside the church too as the 19th century
vestry walls are lined from top to bottom with thousands of cockle shells, the emblem of St James.

St James’ Church, Cooling, Kent

Kent is making the most of this year to encourage us to visit and I’m looking forward to discovering this part of England. You can find out more about events and locations from Visit Kent, including the Dickens Festivals. Dickens 2012 is a great resource for events to celebrate this famous author across the world. Kent is only 37 minutes from London by High Speed train. Travel by train or bus when in Kent & get 2FOR1 offers too.

Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site which is an online travel guide for visitors to London. She has lived in the London area all her life and can’t imagine ever wanting to live elsewhere. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook too. See Laura’s other articles on the Visit Britain Super Blog.

Old Curiosity Shop image credit: Jon’s pics. St James’ Church in Cooling image credit: shirokazan.

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