Charles Dickens Museum reopens after £3.1 million transformation

By Culture24 Reporter | 05 December 2012
A photo of a decadent Victorian-style four poster bed within a museum within a house
The main bedroom at the new-look Charles Dickens Museum in London© Andrea Artz

Expanded and enhanced, the Charles Dickens Museum has reopened at the writer’s former Bloomsbury home in London, finishing the bicentenary year of his birth with a flourish after a transformation costing £3.1 million.

A much-loved landmark for literary fans, 48 Doughty Street has now taken over its neighbouring plot at number 49, where an impressive Visitor and Learning Centre features a digitised collection, spaces for studying and reading and storage space, as well as exhibition areas, a café and the National Dickens Library and Archive.

A photo of an old brown desk within a Victorian period room with red coloured walls
The study© Andrea Artz
The main building opened in 1925. It was where Dickens dreamed up Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, and now visitors can take a closer look at two of the rooms where his mind went to work – the attic and kitchen are open for the first time.

Heritage experts and scholars have been closely consulted during a restoration which has returned the Grade I-listed house to its original Victorian plushness.

Each room has been decorated as Dickens is thought to have known it. The drawing room hosts the desk he would have read from and the master bedroom features a number of previously unseen personal items.

The second bedroom, in which Dickens’ sister, Mary, died during her teens, reflects on mortality. An extremely rare set of photos show the rail crash Dickens was involved in 147 years ago.

The attic tells of Dickens’ difficult childhood and subsequent legacy. Costumes worn by Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes during their parts in the stage adaptation of Great Expectations are also on loan at number 49.

Mark Dickens, the great great grandson of a literary great, said the renovation had been “a triumph of planning and preparation.”

“It is very exciting to realise that we will now be able to see 48 Doughty Street as my great great grandfather would have lived in it,” he pointed out.

“I can think of no more fitting way to round off this fantastic year of Dickensian activities. I know he would have heartily approved.”

Those activities have included a royal visit to the venue, a commemoration event at Westminster Abbey and the opening of Dickens’ Kent home at Gad’s Hill Place.

But the much-anticipated return of the museum will provide a lasting hall of history, starting with a series of Christmas events and continuing with an innovative programme including tours by costumed guides and workshops. It is also proud to be the only major London museum opening on Christmas Day.

“This has been the most exciting year in the Museum’s history,” said Director Dr Florian Schweizer.

“The restoration of the fragile buildings means that the Museum will continue to serve visitors in the future while the new interpretation scheme brings to life the amazing story of Charles Dickens, from his traumatic childhood memories to his remarkable career.

“London now boasts Britain’s most accessible literary house and a place where more people than ever can engage with one of the nation’s favourite figures.”

“The bicentenary has demonstrated just how many people enjoy Dickens’s works; we are extremely pleased that the refurbished Museum is ready to take on the legacy of the bicentennial as a permanent site for the celebration and appreciation of Charles Dickens.”

Schweizer praised the generosity of major backers the Heritage Lottery Fund, and called on volunteers, learners and visitors to flock to Doughty Street. It is unlikely they will need much encouragement.

More pictures:

A photo of an elegant Victorian drawing room in a museum lit by hanging lights
The drawing room© Andrea Artz
A photo of a four-poster bed draped in pink sheets inside a Victorian-style bedroom
Second bedroom© Andrea Artz
A photo of a Victorian-style kitchen with a wooden table and plates lining shelves
The kitchen© Andrea Artz
A photo of a sparse bedroom inside a museum with literary quotes on the wall and a lamp
The attic© Andrea Artz
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