Charles Dickens in Hatton Garden
Walk through the streets of Hatton Garden at this time of year, as the leaves turn to red and gold and the light fades in the late afternoon, and you cannot fail to be aware of the history of this little part of London. Down the narrow alley ways and streets winding between the tall buildings strode many famous figures, including Charles Dickens.
The Charles Dickens Museum in 48 Doughty Street was the London home of Dickens, the place where his two eldest children were born and where he wrote many of his most famous books. Charles Dickens was the son of a debtor and started life as a journalist, but despite his humble beginnings, he became one of England’s most famous and celebrated authors within his own lifetime. Many of his books were published in instalments – popular reading matter dealing with local and relevant issues, designed to appeal a much larger audience than his publishers has ever previously attempted. He wrote from experience and used the places around Bloomsbury, Holborn and Hatton Garden. The Rookery, the infamous tenement buildings in Saffron Hill, were home to criminals and outcasts; Fagin’s Kitchen in Oliver Twist was believed to have been situated at number 8 Saffron Hill and was owned by De Beers until it was demolished to make way for new office buildings in the late 1980’s. The character of Fagin was based in Ikey Soloman, and well known fence and criminal in the area who ran a gang of pickpockets – children who stole for food, clothing and shelter.
Number 54 Hatton Garden was the police court house, mentioned in Oliver Twist, was presided over by Mr Fang who in real life was the ferociously cruel magistrate, Mr A. S. Laing. Laing was something of a celebrity in Hatton Garden and it seems that Charles Dickens used some subterfuge to meet the man upon whom he wanted to base a character for his next book. The meeting provoked a such a violent outburst of anger that he was subsequently removed from his post!
The One Tun pub in Saffron Hill has been serving customers with ale since the early 1800’s. Charles Dickens was a frequent visiter and would have met many of the characters that appear in his books. The Bleeding Heart Tavern on the corner of Bleeding Heart yard, now restored to its former glory by Robert and Robin Wilson who own both the Tavern and the Restaurant, was the home of the Plomish family in Little Dorrit, and the secret gate leading from Ely Place to Bleeding Heart Yard still exists. Just off Ely place is a narrow alley way leading through to Hatton Garden known as Mitre Alley. In the middle of this alley is a pub called the The Olde Mitre Tavern which was built by the Bishop Goodrich of Ely in 1546 to entertain his servants at the Bishops Palace. It is reputed to be built around a cherry tree and that Elizabeth I spent time her with Christopher Hatton on the pretext of visiting her Bishops!