Please click here to read my latest Time Out blog: Seven places in London linked to a Christmas Carol.
As the festive season approaches, I always enjoy returning to one of my favourite Charles Dickens novels- ‘A Christmas Carol’.
During his celebrated career, Dickens wrote many Yuletide stories, including ‘A Christmas Tree’ (1850), ‘The Child’s Story’ (1852) and ‘What Christmas is as We Grow Older’ (1851).
However, A Christmas Carol; written in a matter of days and first published on the 19th December 1843, remains his seasonal masterpiece.
At its core, the tale is one of a once decent man who has gradually become corrupted by money, spurning true love in favour of a lust for all things fiscal.
This moral fairy-tale is spiced up with lashings of Christmassy imagery… and of course a bunch of persuasive ghosts, who guide the wretched miser towards a glorious redemption…
Like the vast majority of Dickens’ novels, many of the scenes featured in A Christmas Carol are planted firmly within specific London locations.
In the opening lines, the reader is told that “Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to.“
‘Change‘ in this case is a shortened nickname which Victorian Londoners gave to the ‘Royal Exchange‘ the vital hub of commerce (now converted into a luxury shopping mall) which overlooks Bank Junction.
Ebenezer Scrooge’s counting house is based right in the heart of the City on an allyway off of Cornhill, moments way from the Bank of England.
Scrooge doesn’t have to commute very far to work; his haunted house being located a short walk away at 45 Lime Street; a twisting lane linking Leadenhall and Fenchurch Street.
In the story, Scrooge’s Lime Street dwelling is described as being:
“A gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had little business to be…
The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands…”
It is in this sombre location that Ebenezer Scrooge has his first taste of the hauntings that are about to follow… as the ghostly face of his long-deceased partner, Jacob Marley, briefly materializes on the door knocker.
This eerie scene was wonderfully portrayed in the famed 1951 adaptation, starring the late, great Scottish actor, Alastair Sim:
Lime Street has changed considerably since Dickensian days.
Today, it is home to the towering headquarters of Lloyds Insurance; a glistening piece of architecture which was unveiled in 1986 and has been celebrated for its ultra-modern appearance ever since…
Returning to the novel, Bob Cratchit- Scrooge’s downtrodden clerk and proud father of sickly child, Tiny Tim, lives north of the City in Camden Town.
Today of course, Camden is famed for being hip, cool and trendy; a hive of colourful markets and bustling bars.
In Dickens’ time however, Camden Town was a poverty-ridden slum.
The area towards the east of Camden- around Agar Grove– was especially notorious. In 1851, Dickens described the area as being:
“A complete bog of mud and filth with deep-cart ruts, wretched hovels, the doors blocked up with mud…the stench of a rainy morning is enough to knock down a bullock.”
Thankfully, there is another far more cheerful connection which Camden can claim to share with A Christmas Carol…
In 1992, ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol‘ was released in cinemas.
To the uninitiated, an adaptation of the classic tale starring Kermit the Frog and a host of muppets may sound rather unconventional.
However, the film actually does a terrific job of capturing the true spirit of Dickens’ original story; the melancholy, the spookiness, the redemption and joy.
And the link with Camden?
Well, not far from Camden High Street there runs a quiet, cobbled street called Oval Road.
From 1990 to 2005, Oval Road was home to the ‘Jim Henson Creature Shop‘; a studio in which countless muppets were lovingly created for an array of movies and TV shows.
It was in Camden therefore, that the huge cast of muppets featured in the following, uplifting clip were born! (Please note though; Sir Michael Caine is very much real!)