St Michael’s Alley
Walk along Cornhill to the Church of St Michael and go left into St Michael’s alley. Here you find the Jamaica Wine House with ledgers of old transactions in its window – this was Ebenezer Scrooge’s office. The Wine House is a Victorian pub and before it was built, the Jamaica Coffee House stood here. This was a meeting place for West India merchants to have a natter and a gossip. The coffee house had replaced an even earlier one – the Pasqua Rosee – which burned down in the Great Fire of London.
Further along this alleyway you’ll come across the George and Vulture (formally the George and Vulture chop house) which features in The Pickwick Papers and is decorated with pictures related to the novel. A sign on the building informs us that it was established in 1600 although the current building dates from the 1700s. If you go upstairs you may even see a lady ghost in a long grey dress. It’s a decent place to stop off for some good old English pub grub and a pint of ale.
Here’s an extract from the Pickwick Papers that mentions the George and Vulture its very self.
St Michael’s Alley
Furnival’s Inn Holborn
Mr Dickens wrote The Pickwick Papers here in 1834. You can see where it stood at Holborn Bars, Holborn which is a great area to have a look at. It was the old boundary of the city of London and there are still some black and white timbered medieval buildings to admire, including Staple Inn mentioned below. There’s a great post on the area at A Walk in History
Staple Inn, Holborn
Walk through the gateway at Staple Inn and you’ll see this sign on the left: “The Porter Has Orders to Prevent Old Clothes Men and Others From Calling “Articles For Sale” Also Rude Children Playing and No Horses Allowed Within This Inn.” It’s still a beautifully quiet place, away from the bustle and traffic of High Holborn. It was formally a wool staple built in 1585 and restored after being damaged by the Luftwaffe in 1944.
Doughty Street, Bloomsbury
The legend that was Dickens lived at No 48 Doughty Street in Holborn from March 1837 to December 1839 and was apparently seen pacing up and down in ghost-form outside it by a gang of workmen in 1971. He was said to be a “short, slim figure in dark clothes with a stove-pipe hat.” (From Ghosts of London, a book by J A Brooks.) It’s now a museum.
St John the Evangelist
Dickens described the form St John the Evangelist in Smith’s Square, Westminster as “a very hideous church with four towers at four corners, generally resembling some petrified monster, frightful and gigantic, on its back with its legs in the air” in Our Mutual Friend 1865. Today it’s regarded as a baroque masterpiece. Tastes change, eh? It’s currently used as a concert hall. According to our friends on Wikipedia there’s a legend that when the architect asked Queen Anne what it should look like, she said “Like that!” kicking over a footstool. That’s allegedly why it has four corner towers and still gets called “Queen Anne’s footstool.”
It was in this area of the City (later the diamond-dealing district) where Fagin’s Den was based. Bleeding Heart Yard (given this name after Lady Elizabeth Hatton supposedly danced with the devil here in 1626 and was found next morning dead, heart pumping blood) here is mentioned in Little Dorrit “there was some relish of ancient greatness about it”. There is now a very nice pub cum French restaurant near it called the Bleeding Heart Tavern (well worth a visit, although service can sometimes be a tad slow). See this article on Unusual Pubs in London
This church is to be found on Seething Lane at Hart Street. (Seething, incidentally, thought to originate from the Medieval word “sifethen” meaning “full of chaff” it being near the Cornmarket.) It was Dickens’ favourite city church, the
best beloved churchyard of ghastly grim, its ferocious strong spiked iron gate like a jail ornamented with skulls and cross bones as described by him in Uncommercial Travel: City of the Absent.