Charles Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol' is as London as they get – but do you know where to find some of the story’s possible locations? Blogger and cabbie Rob Lordan seeks them out...
As a London cabbie, I dread Christmas. Traffic’s ferocious, folk are stressed and boozed-up revelers hurl themselves at you like extras from ‘The Walking Dead’. But to save my sanity and keep my humbug in check, I decided to look for the sites associated with Charles Dickens’ heartwarming festive hit:
Newman's Court, EC3
Ebenezer Scrooge is a money lender – an early version of Wonga, if you will (minus the faux-cuddliness) – and when we first meet the famous miser, he’s sour-pussing Christmas Eve away in his dreary counting house. Dickens informs us that the 'gruff old bell' of a church peers through Scrooge’s window, and that his put-upon clerk, Bob Cratchit exits the office via Cornhill in the City of London. This suggests Scrooge’s dosh-shop is situated in Newman’s Court, which is in a tiny alley overlooked by St Michael Cornhill church. Cornhill is also home to the Counting House pub.
Mansion House, Walbrook, EC4N
As the afternoon draws on in the beginning of the story, Dickens describes the excited preparations occurring nearby – including within the 'mighty Mansion House', in which the Lord Mayor 'gave orders to his 50 cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should'.
Simpson's Tavern, Ball Court, EC3V
After shutting up shop, Scrooge heads to his 'usual melancholy tavern' where he tucks into a 'melancholy dinner'. Although Ebenezer’s local is not specified, a likely contender is Simpson's Tavern on Ball Court (a short stroll from Newman’s Court). Still open today, this is London’s oldest chop house, lining bankers’ guts since 1757.
Lime Street, EC3V
Dickens describes Ebenezer's home as a 'gloomy suite of rooms in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be…one could scarcely help fancying it might have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again'. Going by this description - and the directions Scrooge later gives to a passing boy when requesting a turkey – it’s believed Dickens envisioned the miser’s abode as being within the vicinity of Lime Street, a twisty-turny road between Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street in the City, and where the ‘Walkie Talkie’ and the Lloyds of London building now loom.
Bayham Street, Camden, NW1
Scrooge’s woefully-paid clerk Bob Cratchit lives with his family (including, of course, the sickly Tiny Tim) in Camden Town – which would've been quite a commute from the City when the Northern line wasn’t even a twinkle in the capital’s eye. Today, Camden is one of our hippest quarters, but when ‘A Christmas Carol’ first hit the scene in 1842 the area was blighted by extreme poverty. As a youngster, Dickens himself experienced life as a Camdenite, residing at 16 Bayham Street during a time when his father was plummeting into serious debt. Safe bet then that the author had this address in mind when describing Bob’s abode, to which the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge for an insightful peek.
The Henson, Oval Road, NW1
There’s another unexpected 'Carol' link in Camden. Between 1978 and 2005, Jim Henson’s creature workshop was based in a warehouse on Oval Road and it was here that a number of puppets for the best adaptation ever – 1992’s ‘Muppet Christmas Carol’ – were lovingly crafted. The building’s since been transformed into a block of flats named The Henson.
The Royal Exchange, EC3V
When the petrifying Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come arrives, the first place the voiceless ghoul drags Scrooge to is the Royal Exchange, which was then the City’s main financial hub. Here, Scrooge is made to observe business associates blithely discussing his death, speculating that the miser is due 'a very cheap funeral' which they’re certain nobody will attend.
Leadenhall Market, EC3V
When Ebenezer Scrooge famously awakens a changed man, one of the first things he does is to ask a passing boy to fetch a prize turkey and have it delivered to the Cratchits via Hackney Carriage. The plump bird would’ve been on display in Leadenhall Market which was then London’s go-to place for all things fowl. Leadenhall is also associated with the legend of Old Tom; a brave goose who dodged the chop in Christmas 1797. The lucky gander was adopted by staff and went on to live in the market for an incredible 37 years. True story. Old Tom is commemorated by a statue perched high above the aptly named Poultry, close to Bank junction.
Read our review of A Christmas Carol at Noël Coward Theatre.