A Dickensian walk near St Paul’s and the Thames

Walking Dickensian London Mansion House to Smithfield
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The Dickensian walk near St Paul’s begins at the site of Dickens first romantic encounter. Discover many fascinating historical and Dickensian facts on this short two mile tour. From a Roman Bathhouse, you pass Shakespear’s Globe, a ferryman’s seat, St Pauls, The Old Bailey and the oldest parish Church in London dating back to 1123.

This is the second tour inspired by Richard Jones’s excellent book Walking Dickensian London. Richard’s book covers much more detail about Dickens’s world than available on this blog and for more walks. I would, therefore recommend walkers to buy a copy.

Start at Mansion House Station

Begin the tour at Mansion House tube station. Around the corner is an alley way called Huggin Hill. At the top end of this cut through stands Cleary Gardens the site of a small vineyard. More importantly it was the home of a Roman Bathhouse. One can still see the remains of the roman wall in the gardens.

A Dickensian walk near St Paul's begins at the site of a roman bathhouse
Roman wall from the bathhouse

From a Dickens perspective Huggin Hill once contained St Michael QueenHithe with its churchyard. The spot reminded Charles of his 4 year unsuccessful courtship of Maria Beadnell. Mr Beadnell disproved of the relationship and it went nowhere. However, Maria inspired two characters in Dickens future works, Dora in David Copperfield and Flora Finching in Little Dorrit.

The Thames

Follow the map to Southwark Bridge and cross on the left hand side. The original bridge of Dickens time was built in 1819. The current bridge was rebuilt after WWI. It was across Southwark bridge that Little Dorrit walked to gain some escape from the noise of London.

Southwark Bridge on a Dickensian walk near St Paul's
Looking east from Southwark Bridge

From the bridge look down into the murky waters below and remember the opening of Our Mutual Friend. It’s here that Gaffer and Lizzie Hexam search for floating dead bodies.

Over the Bridge

On the southside pass the austere Financial Times building. Shortly afterwards you arrive at a set of houses built in 1834 entitled Anchor Terrace.

Beautiful early 19th C windows of Anchor Terrace

Robert Jones in Walking Dickensian London recounts the story of how ashamed Dickens was of his home. When Dickens worked at the blacking factory he was taken ill and it was decided to send him home. Bob Fagin, a kindly older boy, offered to walk Dickens home. Because ” I was too proud to let him know about the prison, and after several efforts to get rid of him, to all of which Bob Fagin in his goodness was deaf, shook hands with him on the steps of a house near Southwark Bridge, on the Surrey side, making him believe I lived there. As a finishing piece of reality in case of him looking back, I knocked at the door…and asked when the woman opened it, if that was Robert Fagin’s house.”

Under the Bridge

As you descend the steps from the bridge you will see the original site of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

The first Globe on a Dickensian walk near St Paul's
Site of the original Globe Theatre

From here, pass under the bridge and enter Bear Gardens. This area of Southwark in Shakespeare’s time was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester. Like all good Bishops he was happy to receive the income from Bear Baiting bouts, licensing theatres and prostitutes.

At the end of Bear Gardens is a seat.

Why not sit here on a Dickensian walk near St Paul's?
Ferryman’s seat

This Ferryman’s seat, located on previous buildings at this site, was constructed for the convenience of Bankside watermen, who operated ferrying services across the river. The seat’s age is unkown, but it’s thought to be ancient.


When you turn left beside the Thames you’ll shortly pass the rebuilt Globe Theatre. This replica of the old theatre was the inspiration of the American actor Sam Wanamaker.

Wanamaker was blacklisted by McCarthyism in 1952 and he fled to Britain. Here he continued his career acting and directing. His passion, however, was to recreate Shakespeare’s Globe. He spent years fighting bureaucracy and raising until his dream finally came true. However, he died before the theatre was actually opened.

One of two Globe's on a Dickensian walk near St Paul's
The modern Globe Theatre

A few paces along from the Globe are two interesting buildings. First is Cardinal’s Wharf and the second is The Deanery.

The plaque on Cardinal’s Wharf claims to have been the house Christopher Wren lodged in while building St Paul’s. Unfortunately this is not true. The house was not built until 1710, the date of the completion of St Paul’s.

The Deanery was originally owned by Southwark Cathedral but was put up for sale in 2011 at a price of £6M. The Grade II listed building was erected in 1712 and is far more fashionable today than it was even 30 years ago.

Back across the Thames

The Millennium, or wobbly bridge, as it’s more popularly known carries you back across the Thames. The bridge was opened in 10th June 2002 and closed 2 days later, because of the wobble effect. This effect called Synchronous Lateral Excitation is caused when the movement of thousands of people moving together exaggerate the natural movement of the bridge. The engineers cured the wobble and the bridge was reopened in February 2002.

The view of St Paul’s and the city of London is stunning. However, very few people look down at the artwork they are walking on.

Within the grooves of the bridge are a whole series of miniature artworks designed by Ben Wilson (the Chewing Gum Man). Ben has used dropped chewing gum painted in acrylic and placed on the bridge. Unfortunately many of the 400 pieces of artwork have begun to fade and disappear, but there are still plenty left to admire.

Crossing the river on a Dickensian walk near St Paul's
St Paul’s Cathedral from the wobbly bridge

A normally crowded bridge that transports visitors from St Pauls to Tate Modern lies almost empty. Lockdown has made the city a ghost town.

College of Arms

At the end of the bridge sits The College of Arms. Here sits the official Heraldic Authority for the United Kingdom and much of the Commonwealth.

The college first occupied this site in the mid-sixteenth century, but that building was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666. The current building was rebuilt in 1670 with many additions since. The current very decorative gates are relatively new, 1956.

Doctors’ Commons

Site of Doctors’ Commons

Dickens began work at Doctors Commons in 1828 as a freelance reporter at the age of 16. He remained working at the Commons for 4 years. He watched the personnel and proceedings of The Commons with a deeply critical eye. His time there inspired many scenes in his fiction including Dombey & Son, Nicholas Nickleby and most importantly Bleak House.

The institution of Doctors’ Commons had its origins in medieval times. Based on the ecclesiastical control over moral offences it had by the 19th Century become the court that determined the legitimacy of over marriage licenses, divorce proceedings and wills. The court lost it’s power in 1857 with an act of parliament

St Paul’s

As you arrive at the top end of Dean’s Court you’ll find the beautiful Old Deanery, the official residence of The Bishop of London.

Edward Woodroofe rebuilt this magnificent building in 1672-73 after the Great Fire of London. Edward Woodroofe assisted Wren on the reconstruction of St Paul’s. The Grade I listed building has been extensively changed since the 17th century and had a chequered history. Amongst other things the house became a bank during the 1980’s and 90’s.

Dickens attended Wellington’s funeral at the cathedral in 1850 and wrote about the appalling and excessive pomp. He immediately decided that his funeral would be simple.

Continue down Ludgate Hill and pass another much smaller church designed by Wren, St Martin within Ludgate. Read the excellent blogpost about this church on A London Inheritance.

Not strictly a part of a Dickensian walk near St Paul's, it's worth reading the London Inheritance Blog

The Old Bailey and Newgate Prison

The current Old Bailey or Central Criminal Court consists of two parts built in 1907 and 1972.

The name derives from the street location. The road follows the line of the old city wall (bailey). The original medieval courts were destroyed in the Great Fire.

Newgate Prison sat next to the Old Bailey until the end of the 19th century. The prison appears in several of Dickens’s works. Fagin was held here before he was executed. In Great Expectations Magwich dies in the infirmary of the prison.

Saracen’s Head Inn

Dickens describes the Saracen’s Head in Nicholas Nickleby. Here the vile Wackford Squeers, headmaster of Dotheboys Hall, awaited parents, guardians and their children.

Site of Saracen’s Head Inn

The Saracen’s Head the main terminus for coaches going northfrom, at least, the early 16th century. Therefore, a natural setting for Dickens to set the departure point for Squeers and his new charges on their way to Yorkshire. Demolished in 1868 the inn later became a police station. It now looks almost derelict. It’s seems such a pity for these old buildings to disappear when they have such a long history. Samuel Pepys and Jonathan Swift drank regularly at The Saracen’s Head.

St Barts

When you arrive at the end of Cock Lane look upwards. Here you will see the statute, known as the Golden Boy. This chubby little cherub sits in a little alcove.

While much of medieval London was destroyed by the great fire of 1666 nothing a Dickensian walk near St Paul's
The Golden Boy

The Golden Boy celebrates the spot where the Great Fire petered out. It is also the location of another of London’s vanished pubs. The pub in question, The Fortune of War, provided the means for local body snatchers to bring their corpses for the surgeons at St Bart’s to examine.

Main entrance to St Bart’s

St Bart’s Hospital has treated patients since 1123. Unfortunately, none of these original medieval buildings exist today. At the entrance you’ll see the only statue of Henry VIII in London. His dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 removed all income from the hospital. However, shortly before his death he granted land to the hospital which allowed it to continue treating the poor.

You cannot miss this plaque on a Dickensian walk near St Paul's
Plaque to William Wallace

A few steps further along the outside wall of the hospital sits a plaque to Sir William Wallace. This stone marks the place where he met his end in 1305. A hero betrayed.

St Bartholomew The Great.

Founded in 1123, along with the hospital, St Bartholomew the Great is the oldest parish church in London. The current entrance to the church and it’s courtyard dates from 1595.

Entrance to St Bartholomew The Great

1536 saw the dissolution of the monasteries and much of the St Bart’s priory was destroyed including the nave. The stone work you can see above was the southern entrance to the nave. In 1595, a local resident used this base to construct a home above the original nave entrance. This tudor building features a statue to St Bartholomew on the upper floor.

A delightful distraction on a Dickensian walk near St Paul's
St Bartholomew’s The Great Entrance

A few notes about the above picture gallery. Firstly, Sir Walter Mildmay lived close by during the 16th century. A great political survivor, he served Henry VIII, Edward V1, Mary and Elizabeth. Despite being a protestant his family tomb is incredibly ornate.

Prior Rahere founded the original priory and hospital in 1123 and he is commemorated with this tomb erected in 1405.

During the Reformation The Lady Chapel was hived off from the main church and became a print shop. Here Benjamin Franklin worked as an apprentice and wrote a Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.

Visit this small church and drift back through the centuries and discover an inner calm.

Little Britain and Sir Rowland Hill

Return to Little Britain, described by Pip as ‘a gloomy street’ in Great Expectations where the lawyer Mr Jaggers had his office.

A contemporary of Dickens, Sir Rowland Hill’s statue stands on King Edward St. Hill was the instigator of the Penny Post the first stamp. Introduced in 1840 the stamp revolutionised the postal service in the UK. Appropriately his statue stands next to a post box.

Sir Rowland Hill and the last stop on a Dickensian walk near St Paul's
Sir Rowland Hill

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