Eyebrows were raised earlier this year when the Charles Dickens Museum shut for restoration. After all, 2012 is the 200th anniversary of Dickens's birth. What was the museum doing closing its doors? Taking advantage of a Heritage Lottery funding opportunity to bring the building up to scratch is the answer.
The museum is open for business again – and the transformation sees Dickens's former residence restored so skilfully that it feels as much like a home as it does a visitor attraction. Dickens moved into 48 Doughty Street in 1837, renting the Bloomsbury townhouse for just over two years. It was here that the author completed 'Oliver Twist' and wrote 'Nicholas Nickleby'.
Wandering through the house, you get a vivid sense of life and literature intertwining. In the drawing room, paintings, prints and objects such as his reading desk remind us of Dickens the celebrated author (Simon Callow performs excerpts of Dickens's work in a recording emanating from his chair). In the attic, meanwhile, the upheavals of his early life are explored in displays including a barred window from Marshalsea debtors' prison – where his father and the rest of his family were locked up while the young Dickens was sent to work in Warren's boot-blacking factory.
Expanding into the house next door, the museum has kept its new café, shop and education facilities separate from Dickens's domestic world. The new wing also houses a temporary exhibition space, currently showing costumes worn by Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes and others in the recent film adaptation of 'Great Expectations'.
The Dickens Museum comes into its own in the run-up to Christmas, offering seasonal walks, readings and other events intended to banish the 'Bah, humbug!' in us all. You can even visit on Christmas Day.