tracking down charles dickens southwark walk featured image

Tracking Down Charles Dickens Southwark Walk

My Charles Dickens Southwark Walk is perfect for anyone who wants to explore London SE1 while finding out more about Dickens in the process. Having lived in Southwark for over three years, I keep noticing Charles Dickens’ references. I decided to conduct some research about Dickens in Southwark and create a self-guided walking tour. The Dickens connection to Southwark is due to his father being incarcerated in Marshalsea Debtors Prison. You will find out more about this and how it shaped the inspiration for many of his novels. Join me as I unravel Dickens connections with Southwark.

trafford parsons fagin and artful dodger

Trafford Parsons Street Art of Fagin and Artful Dodger on Great Suffolk Street

Charles Dickens Southwark Walk Highlights

Borough Station: Start your tour by travelling to Borough Underground Station on the Northern Line. Borough Station is on the corner of Borough High Street, Marshalsea Road and Great Dover Street. The Debtors Prison is named after Marshalsea Road.

dickens southwark walk st george the martyr church borough

St George The Martyr Church

St George The Martyr Church: Opposite Borough Station, you will see the beautiful Grade II* listed church with a spire known as Little Dorrit Church. Little Dorrit (a character from Dicken’s novel of the same name) was born in Marshalsea Prison and christened in the church. One night she slept in the church using the register as a pillow. She was married to Arthur Clennam in the church. In the bottom right-hand corner of the modern stained-glass window at the east end of the church is Little Dorrit wearing a poke hat.

dickens southwark walk st georges churchyard gardens

St George’s Churchyard Garden

Marshalsea Debtors Prison: John Dickens (Charles Dickens Father) was sent to Marshalsea Debtors Prison on 20 February 1824 when Charles Dickens was twelve. In those days, the family also went to stay in prison; his wife and younger children accompanied him. However, Charles was sent to work at Warren’s Blacking and lodged on Lant Street, close by. The visits to prison gave Charles content for his novels – The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield and Little Dorrit (born in Marshalsea).

dickens southwark walk marshalsea prison plaque near gates

Marshalsea Prison Plaque on Wall

Behind the church is a small park called St George’s Churchyard Garden. Venture inside and walk towards the back, where you see two metal gates and a brown plaque on the wall. It reads, “Beyond this old wall is the old Marshalsea Prison site, closed in 1842. This sign is attached to a remnant of the prison wall. Charles Dickens, whose father had been imprisoned here for debt in 1824, used that experience as the Marshalsea setting for his novel Little Dorrit.”

dickens southwark walk marshalsea prison plaque

Marshalsea Debtors Prison Plaque Close Up

Walk through the gate and head left towards Borough High Street along an alley (Angel Place). Just before you reach Borough High Street on your left above a set of rubbish bins, you will see a metal plaque. It reads, “This alleyway lies on the site of the old Marshalsea Prison where the author Charles Dickens’s father was incarcerated, and which featured strongly in his great book ‘Little Dorrit.’ The old prison wall still stands.”

dickens southwark walk angel walk alley plaque

Metal Plaque in Alley

Above the silver plaque is a wall-mounted artwork with the original illustrations from Little Dorrit, explained on the silver plaque. It says, “the themes of wealth and poverty, freedom and imprisonment, which run throughout the book, are visually explored. Children from the local St Joseph’s and Cathedral Schools collaborated on the project and appeared in the scenes along with the drawings.”

dickens southwark walk little dorrit illustrations alleyway

Little Dorrit Illustrations in Alley

Little Dorrit Court and Little Dorrit Park: Walk up Borough High Street in the direction of The Shard on the opposite side to the church, and you will find Little Dorrit Park and Little Dorrit Court. The Park is a small green space with a children’s playground and a few seating areas.

dickens southwark walk little dorrit court and playground

Little Dorrit Park

Little Dorrit Gate: If you go inside the Park, you will see a cute metal gate dedicated to Little Dorrit. The words on the gate say, “His door was softly open, and these spoken words startled him and came as though they were an answer.”

dickens southwark walk little dorrit gate

Little Dorrit Gate

Quilp Street: Either walk through the Park or around it on Little Dorrit Court into Disney Street and Quilp Street (named after Daniel Quilp, the villain from “The Old Curiosity Shop). You will then be on Marshalsea Road.

dickens southwark walk mint street park

Mint Street Park

Mint Street Park: The St Saviour’s Union Workhouse on Mint Street may have been the idea for the famous scene in Oliver Twist when the boy asks for more. Presumably, Charles Dickens would have seen the poor children on Mint Street as he passed by to his Lant Street lodgings. Today the site is home to Mint Street Park, a small green space with a play area.

dickens southwark walk charles dickens primary school plaque behind gate

Dickens Plaque Behind School Gate

Lant Street Lodgings: A short walk from Mint Street Park is Lant Street. Charles lodged an attic room in Lant Street to eat meals with his family residing in prison. The lodging room was in a house belonging to the Vestry Clerk of St George’s Church. Lant Street joins with Sawyer Street, named after Bob Sawyer, a character in The Pickwick Papers.

dickens southwark walk pickwick street corner of school

Names of Fictional Characters Wall Corner of Pickwick Street and Toulmin Street

Charles Dickens Primary School: Today, close to Lant Street, you find the Charles Dickens Primary School (Toulmin Street SE1 1AF). Look out for the blue plaque behind the school gates, saying, “Charles Dickens 1812-1870. Writer, journalist and social reformer.” On the school wall, you will see names of fictional characters from Dickens novels. Just off Toulmin Street is Pickwick Street, named after the Pickwick Papers. You will also notice Weller Street named after Sam Weller in the Pickwick Papers.

dickens southwark walk bill sikes street art the libertine pub

Trafford Parsons Bill Sikes, Oliver Reed, Dickens Street Art

Dickens Tribute Street Art: At the back of The Libertines Pub is a piece of street art by Trafford Parsons. Bill Sikes is a fictional character and criminal in Fagin’s gang in Oliver Twist, once played by Oliver Reed in a movie version. The pub address is 125 Great Suffolk Street SE1 1PQ. The back of the pub can be seen from Toulmin Street near the school.

dickens southwalk walk oliver twist trafford parsons terrys cafe

Trafford Parsons, Oliver Twist, Dickens Street Art

On Great Suffolk Street is Terry’s Café, where you will find a picture of Oliver Twist on shutters. On the brick wall is another painting of Bill Sikes, all by Trafford Parsons. On Great Guildford Street (near Caravan restaurant), you will find a picture of the Artful Dodger and Fagin by the same artist.

dickens southwark walk doyce street

Doyce Street

Doyce Street: Turn right up Southwark Bridge Road. On the opposite side of Mint Street Park is Doyce Street, named after Daniel Doyce in Little Dorrit. Left down Doyce Street and left again, and you are in Copperfield Street.

dickens southwark walk copperfield street church and row of cottages

Copperfield Street Winchester Cottages

Copperfield Street: Here, you will find the Copperfield Rehearsal Rooms, Copperfield Gallery and Copperfield Street. It is a pretty area with the All Hallows’ Church, graveyard and grounds and a row of lovely little cottages. The Winchester Cottages 1893-5 were provided by the Church Commissioners inspired by Octavia Hill (English Social Reformer). If you end the walk at this point, you can walk back to Mint Street Park, along Marshalsea Road, and you will be back at Borough Station. If you are hungry, walk up Borough High Street in the direction of The Shard, and you will be at Borough Market.

dickens southwark walk dickens fields

Dickens Fields

Dickens Square and Dickens Fields: If you want to explore further, you can walk to Dickens Square and Dickens Fields. Dickens Fields has recently been regenerated with a play area and a park with seating.

Charles Dickens Southwark Walk Post Credits

I love this walk because it takes you through some beautiful parts of Southwark near Borough and Bankside. It takes under an hour, and you start and end at the same place, or you have the option to continue further. If you are interested in Charles Dickens and his association with Southwark, please refer to the websites listed below, which helped me devise this walk.

Marshalsea Wikipedia Page
Southwark Heritage Dickens
London Walking Tours Little Dorrit Church
London Walking Tours Southwark Walk
The Underground Map
Southwark Street Names Wikipedia

I visited the Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury, which was very interesting; please read my Charles Dickens Museum Bloomsbury London article for further information.

Author: Homegirl London referencing the sources listed above. Photographs Homegirl London.