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Double back to Fleet Street (which, until a few decades ago, was home to the city's newspapers) and detour left into a small passageway called Cheshire Court for the entrance to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub where Dickens once drank. Ease yourself into a seat at a wooden table in the warren of low-ceilinged stony nooks. This 345-year-old boozer is a proper, old-school English pub, and is a perfect daytime stop, as locals come here to chat over pints of bitter. (By the way, no one in Dickens’s day pronounced “Ye” in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese as “Ye”. They said “The”, for which “Ye was a typographical shorthand.)
Backtrack to where Fleet Street and Strand converge, and veer north on a eight-minute walk up Aldwych and Kingsway to Portsmouth Street, home to the city’s most enduring tourist monument to Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop, which was founded while the author was still alive. The cottage structure dates from 1567. Today it tempts customers with various Dickens-themed paraphernalia, though scholars seriously doubt its claim to be the inspiration for the novel of the same name.
Dickens said he never wanted statues erected in his honour, and when he died the city laid him to rest in a simply marked grave in Westminster Abbey. But recently, fans of the author could not resist installing a bust of him near the site of Furnival’s Inn, where the author lived for a few years and wrote The Pickwick Papers. To pinpoint it, leave the Old Curiosity Shop and circle round Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a large park, heading north to the main thoroughfare of High Holborn. Walk a few blocks to 142 High Holborn and find the passageway to Waterhouse Square, between Brooke Street and Leather Lane. In the courtyard, suss out the covered nook on the far wall, next to the Prudential Assurance Company. The bust comes complete with a plaque commemorating the novelist. An interesting note: the architect of London’s Natural History Museum, Alfred Waterhouse, also designed this surrounding courtyard in much the same grand Victorian style.
Cross High Holborn, and make your way back one block toward Chancery Lane underground station, where a set of 16th-century Tudor-style black-and-white wooden buildings named Staple Inn (9 Staple Inn), loom above the station. Enter through a passageway wedged under those buildings and stroll into an inner courtyard that Dickens described in Edwin Drood as a “little nook composed of two irregular quadrangles.” His novelistic descriptions of the spot still bear true today: “It is one of those nooks, the turning into which out of the clashing street, imparts to the relieved pedestrian the sensation of having put cotton in his ears and velvet soles on his boots.” This courtyard was familiar to Dickens in the late 1820s because he worked in a solicitor’s office on the other side of High Holborn at Gray’s Inn, another of the four Inns of Court.
North of Gray’s Inn is the Charles Dickens Museum, closed for refurbishment between April and December 2012. When open, it is worth a peek, located on the same street as a since-demolished house where the author once lived and wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. The museum simulates the former residence and holds several of Dickens’s possessions, such as the upholstered leather chair on which the prolific writer penned A Tale of Two Cities.
More impressive is the Dickens and London exhibition being hosted from now until 10 June at the Museum of London, one stop from Chancery Lane station near St Paul’s tube on the Central line. On display are many evocative artefacts, including the hand-inked manuscripts of major novels such as Bleak House, David Copperfield and Great Expectations in Bible-sized notebooks, along with paintings of what the city was like in the author’s day.