Charles Dickens Museum (Central London): should every house that someone famous once lived in be open?

I visited this house last summer and came away so angry/sad/disappointed/confused that I didn’t write up what I’d seen.  I didn’t even turn back to take a picture of the facade because I wanted to get far away.

Maybe I was thinking I’d forget it.  But writing about Denis Severs’ creation last week brought me back to this almost empty post that I first started writing in June 2011.  I’d been quite mean about the Handel House Museum too (I’d visited there the week before) and thought I should keep away from negativity.

And yet I took lots of pictures inside to document what creating a museum out of a house that someone famous lived in for 2 minutes (2 years in this case) can result in.

Keep reading to the end to see why now is a good time to record what I thought.

This house isn’t about it being a Georgian house but about a Georgian house being used to house some fragments of artifacts from Charles Dickens’ life.

In fact, both houses shown above are owned but the one on the right is offices and the other is where the Charles Dickens experience is based, with a cafe on the ground floor and a couple of lovely (yes, the nicest bit) courtyards out back.

However, the linoleum crime that has been committed at Charles Dickens House made me cry inside.  Look at the stairs…

I could spend hours revealing the cornice below (but barely visible because it’s been painted over, painted over and then painted over about 30 more times).

The rooms aren’t really furnished

I’m not sure what story is being told – maybe the video could be in this room rather than the basement?

I think the curator of the Dennis Severs’ House needs to hot foot it over to the Charles Dickens Museum to help them inject some life into the place.

The best bit for me was the video playing in the damp basement, which to be fair I could have watched anywhere in the world.

Here’s what they say about themselves:

“Number 48 Doughty Street was an important place in the Charles Dickens’s life where he lived from 1837 until 1839. He described it as ‘my house in town’.

Two of his daughters were born here, his sister-in-law Mary died aged 17 and some of his best-loved novels were written here, including Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. However Dickens required more space for his growing family and moved to 1 Devonshire Terrace in 1839. The house remained a residential property, but was threatened with demolition in 1923, when the Dickens Fellowship acquired it. The Museum was opened in 1925 and has become the world’s finest Dickens-related collection.”

But all I say above was met with joy when I went back to the museum’s website writing this and saw this piece of news.  Maybe I’ll go back when the refurb is done.

“Great Expectations renovation project will start in April 2012

Wed 11 Jan 2012

Four years after the first proposals were made for the launch of a £3.2m redevelopment project, the Charles Dickens Museum is pleased to announce that sufficient funds have been raised to allow the refurbishment and expansion of the museum to begin. The museum will close for refurbishment from 9th April 2012 until December 2012 in time to celebrate a Dickensian Christmas in the novelist’s bicentenary year.

Great Expectations is a complex project designed to address the long-term needs of the Museum: it will restore two listed buildings that require structural repairs and strengthening to cope with increasing visitor numbers; it will improve access to the Museum for its users, making it a better experience for a wider range of people who want to learn about Dickens; it will expand our capacity to offer a range of activities, introducing facilities for learners of all ages and backgrounds; and it will reinterpret our collections so that our visitors can enjoy an increased appreciation of our Dickensian heritage. In  conjunction with this process , we will be delivering outreach activities around London and other parts of the country, we will be creating new employment opportunities, and we will share as much of the transformation of the Museum with the public as possible.

The Heritage Lottery Fund as main funder has been extremely supportive of this project, and it has been largely due to their recognition of Dickens as a key figure in British heritage that we , together with many other organisations around the country,  are  able to commemorate the bicentenary with Great Expectations. The project timetable was not directed by HLF: the programme of building and exhibition fit-out works from April until Christmas 2012 was developed by the Museum, and while it was a difficult decision to close for several months in the bicentenary year, and during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Games, the Board and Management of the Museum agreed that it is in the best interest of its heritage assets that the closure takes place when there are a large number of alternative Dickens activities on offer.

2012 is set to be a fantastic year for Dickens. There have never been so many opportunities for people to take part in Dickens activities around the country as in 2012, and we hope that audiences will explore the range of projects that we have supported, including new apps and trails for London and Kent. The Charles Dickens Museum is the founding partner of Dickens2012, a national and international campaign to commemorate Dickens in 2012, and through our efforts hundreds of organisations are offering Dickens activities in 2012.

As a lender of museum objects we are contributing to many exhibitions in the UK and abroad, and the closure of the Museum means that other museums, libraries and archives will be able to borrow from our comprehensive collections: at a local level we are working with museums in the London boroughs, and we are supporting the first London-wide City Read campaign with a focus on Oliver Twist in April; outside London we are contributing to the exhibition at the Watts Gallery in Surrey, and we are in discussions with Gad’s Hill Place to  open Dickens’s last home as a visitor centre during the summer; internationally we will showcase our collections in venues from Hong Kong to the United States.

The fact that the opportunity to fulfil the Trust’s vision has been presented in 2012 means that the Charles Dickens Museum will take exactly the role in the Dickens heritage sector it had envisaged when we started the project.  The Museum’s redevelopment is the most significant legacy project of the bicentenary; it will enable us to be open in 2013 when most of the bicentenary activities will have ended.  The redeveloped Museum will have greater capacity to serve all those whose interest in Dickens has grown during 2012 as well as those who discover Dickens for the first time.

We apologise to those visitors who might have wanted to visit us in the summer/autumn but we hope they will understand that we are working hard for a longer term future for the museum, and that after December 2012 they will find a world-class heritage site befitting the commemoration of Britain’s greatest novelist.”

When visited: June 2011
Theme tune: Tragedy (because what they’ve done to this house is)

House * out of 5: ** (it gets an extra star for being Georgian but really is just 1 star)

Garden * out of 5: **


6 thoughts on “Charles Dickens Museum (Central London): should every house that someone famous once lived in be open?

  1. I actually visited it back in 1978 while I was in college. My friends and I had this on our list of “must see” places and then once we paid the entrance fee (which seemed so large for our poor student budgets) we were so disappointed in the museum. I never went back, but I might have to with the upcoming improvements! Great post!

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