Dickens’ London is not difficult to find. In many corners of the city – Clerkenwell, Islington, Camden, Southwark – there are not only houses but streets and whole districts of houses dating from the 1820s, 30s and 40s. Similarly, the stuccoed squares and terraces of Belgravia, Bayswater and South Kensington look much as they did in the mid-19th century.
In Borough High Street many of the buildings and alleys have a Dickensian feel. It was at the White Hart here that Mr Pickwick met Sam Weller. The inn has gone, though it is commemorated by a plaque. Part of a coaching inn survives nearby, however. The George, originally built in 1677, has galleries and taprooms that Pickwick would recognize.
Round the corner in St Thomas Street are important reminders of London’s medical history. Opened in 1726, Guy’s Hospital represented a breakthrough in hospital design. Its wards were roomy, well-lit and wellventilated, grouped around two courtyards. This still looks much as it did when built, and in one of its courtyards is preserved a stone shelter from Old London Bridge. Bob Sawyer in Pickwick Papers, who held a party at his rooms in nearby Lant Street, was a medical student at Guy’s.
Opposite the hospital is a grimmer relic. Concealed in the loft of a church is the former womens’ operating theatre of another hospital, St Thomas’. This was in use from 1821 until the hospital moved in 1865. It vividly demonstrates why only the toughest could survive surgery.
A few minutes’ walk to the south is the site of the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison. Only part of the high brick wall, skirting the nearby churchyard, remains. The church itself, St George the Martyr, is the scene of Little Dorrit’s christening, and of her marriage to Arthur Clennam. It is known as the ‘Little Dorrit Church.’