This is a truly magical journey through the streets and to the places with which the name of Charles Dickens is indelibly linked. Indeed, the area that we explore on this walk is brim full with Dickensian locations – places he knew, places he lived in and places he wrote about.
Within a few short minutes of setting out, you will have turned through an ancient gateway to find yourself pitched back in time as you enter a tranquil oasis that is as far away from the hustle and the bustle of the 21st century as it is possible to get.
Indeed, one of the first things Richard will ask you to do is pause and take in the sudden change of atmosphere as the rush and noise of modern London fades to but a distant murmur in an enclave that is still much as it was when Dickens knew it.
Here you will find yourself blinking in disbelief at the very office where, as a boy of 15, Charles Dickens worked for a firm of lawyers.
You will learn how the bright eyed and eager young boy was able to impress his workmates with his great talent for mimicry and with his outstanding knowledge of London. You will, at the same time, no doubt, smirk at the story of how he used to delight in dropping cherry stones from the upstairs windows on to the hats of passers-by below!
Finally, you will hear how Dickens later depicted the area in his fiction, and you will have the opportunity to decide for yourself whether he was being entirely fair when he described his surroundings here as “…one of the most depressing institutions in brick and mortar known to the children of men…”
From here, the walk visits the site where Dickens was living when he first began to make a name for himself as a writer. Picturing him on the cusp of becoming a successful author provides a terrific insight into the man he later became as we explore the forces that drove him and influenced him during these formative professional years.
You will hear how the progress of his first major work, Pickwick Papers, was beset by problems and personality clashes.
You will learn how his career was almost brought to an abrupt halt by a tragedy the recovering from which really did set him on the road to literary stardom, as his confidence increased and he took firm control of his literary destiny to become the inimitable Boz.
Having discussed Dickens professional development, we will delve into the, to say the least, tortuous tale of his private life to cover the complex subject of his love life.
You will learn of the girl who broke his heart when he was a youngster, barely out of his teens. You will hear of how she re-appeared when he was a successful middle-aged author and how, having rejected her, he subjected her to a rather cruel portrayal in the work he was writing at the time.
You will hear of his marriage to Catherine Hogarth in 1836, learn how he became infatuated with her younger sister, Mary Hogarth, and ponder how her sudden death at the age of seventeen left him emotionally scarred and, it could be argued, sowed the seeds of his later marital disharmony.
You will discover the full story of the break down of his marriage and hear of the appalling way in which he treated his wife
However, this will not be salacious or gratuitous gossip, but rather, it will provide a genuine insight into the forces that fuelled Dickens genius and which, in turn, tormented both him and those who had to live with the consequences of his actions.
Having gazed upon the place where Pip first lodged when he came to London in Great Expectations, and looked at the site where Fagin’s lair was located in Oliver Twist, the Dickens walk ventures into a truly remarkable survivor from bygone London, the origins of which date back to the 1570′s.
It was in the sleepy shade of this enchanting enclave that the kindly lawyer Mr Grewgious lived in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and, once you hear what Dickens had to say about it, you’ll be truly struck by how little it has changed over the years.
Indeed, you’ll be amazed by how Dickens observation that the turning into this little nook "imparts to the relieved pedestrian the sensation of having put cotton in his ears, and velvet soles on his boots" still holds true today. It really is a true time-capsule of a place!
Then, having stepped through a gateway where the teenage Dickens received a black eye on his first day at work, you will arrive beneath the tranquil, flag-stoned cloisters opposite which the fog-shrouded opening of Bleak House was set.
Here, in an area that has change so little since the 19th century that it is still frequently used to film television and movie serialisations of Dickens works and other period dramas, we encounter Dickens at his lawyer bashing best as he launches a vitriolic attack on, not just the legal system of his day, but also on the very fabric of Victorian society.
You will listen as he tells of fog enshrouding every nook, corner and cranny of the Victorian Metropolis and hear how, in the old hall outside which you will be standing, at the “very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery…”
Next, via a grand 19th century building where, according to Dickens, lawyers skulls should be arranged to show “how thick skulls may become”, we make our way to a true local landmark that isn’t quite what it appears to be.
The Old Curiosity Shop is certainly antiquated – indeed, it dates from 1567, and it remembers a long ago age when the streets hereabouts were covered by open countryside.
Dickens would most certainly have known of it, and he may well have even paid it the occasional visit.
But, did he really “immortalise” it, as the inscription emblazoned across its time-worn wall announces?
In a word – no. For, not only did he locate the building in his book The Old Curiosity Shop in a completely different district of London, but he also stated emphatically that the shop he wrote of had been “long ago pulled down.”
So, how did this lovely old property come to be “immortalised” by Charles Dickens”?
Well, in truth, it’s a bit of a bizarre tale – albeit a rather funny one – and your guide never tires of regaling his audiences with it. So, prepare to be regaled!
The final Dickens landmark, on a tour that is crammed full of them, will be the former home of John Forster, Dickens greatest friend, advisor and primary biographer.
The two men met when they were both starting out in life and they remained close friends until Dickens death in 1870.
Dickens frequently visited this house, and it was in one of its upstairs rooms (your guide will point out exactly which one) that he gave the first ever reading from his Christmas book The Chimes to a select gathering that included many of the literary and artistic great and good of his day.
Later he would make this house the home of Mr Tulkinghorn, the sinister lawyer in Bleak House where, in the “shrunken fragments of its greatness lawyers lie like maggots in nuts.”
Can there be a more apt location, or for that matter a better quote, with which to end a reverential pilgrimage through the streets, life and works of Charles Dickens – England’s greatest novelist?