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Dickens home wins grant

Maev Kennedy
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Charles Dickens' writing desk and chair. — PHOTO: AFP
Charles Dickens' writing desk and chair. — PHOTO: AFP

In true Dickensian style, a magnificent gift has arrived at the doorstep of Charles Dickens's only surviving London home, just as volunteers were decking the walls with holly and ivy.

The tall, narrow house in Doughty Street, central London, where Dickens lived for three years from 1837, has been awarded a £2-million grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund, in time for a comprehensive renovation before the bicentenary of the author's birth in 2012.

The house is full of treasures, but shabby and badly in need of the first major refurbishment since it was built. It was preserved from the modernisation which gutted most of its neighbours.

Because it went down in the world and became a cheap lodging house, so many original features survive.

New displays will be created in the house next door, which the trust also owns, allowing the Dickens house to be restored, rescuing it from the current lino-covered floors, a library in what was the kitchen and scullery and the exhibition space crammed into what was Dickens's bedroom. It was the house where Dickens was born as an author: while he lived there he published Nicholas Nickleby under his own name, abandoning the “Boz” pen-name he used as a young journalist. It was also where he celebrated his first family Christmases, and began the invention of the definitive Christmas in his writing, complete with snow, carol singers, party games, and frosty hearts melted into philanthropy.

His drawing room is being decked out in Victorian Christmas finery, and museum director Florian Schweizer will soon be taking to the streets in frock coat and tall hat to announce that the museum is one of the few places in the capital which will open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day — with mince pies and mulled wine. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

Ahead of the bicentenary of the author's birth


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