We heard that the Sir Nigel Gresley was due to visit King’s Cross station this morning and hurried down in the hope of seeing it. Unfortunately, we missed it and by the time we reached Platform 1, there was not so much as a wisp of smoke to be seen.
To console ourselves, we went to the Station Cafe for breakfast. From the window we had this view of the sculpture of Mercury. I was amused by the fact that he seemed to be about to launch this pigeon into the air like a falconer sending off his hawk. I love the way pigeons remind us that monuments and statues are just lumps of stone and metal whose “meaning” is inside the human mind.
This is where we went next, to Marchmont Street in Bloomsbury. This is where we do our laundry in the launderette. When we awoke yesterday, we found that the snow had gone and today the sun is shining so we had no excuse for avoiding this essential chore.
Perhaps because we were early or perhaps because the cold weather had made people sluggish, the launderette was not at all busy and we finished our work in record time. We went home, had a little rest and then set out again.
We came here, to a house in Doughty Street, number 48, to be precise. It is quite a famous house because of the person who once lived there, and it is now preserved as a museum. If you are interested in Victorian literature you might know or guess who the occupant was. The blue plaque gives the game away but you probably cannot read it, so I reproduce it below.
As you can now see, this was once the home of the journalist and novelist Charles Dickens. The dates on the plaque refer to his life and he was resident here only for two and a half years in 1837 to 1839. This house represents the first rungs of the ladder to fame and success for Dickens, being in a respectable street that once had gates at either end to keep out through traffic – an early example of a “gated community”!
This basement room was once the kitchen – said by the servants to be “stuffy” – but is now a library containing many editions of Dickens’ works in many languages. As you see, photography is allowed provided you don’t use flash.
After Dickens’ time, the house gradually went downhill and was even in danger of being demolished. Paradoxically, this helped preserve it because little had been done to alter the interior which thus remained much in its original form. The house was rescued by the Dickens Fellowship and opened in 1925 as the Dickens Museum.
The basement was the realm of the 4 servants and the family lived on the ground floor and above. It has not been possible to furnish the house completely as it would have been in Dickens’ day. Pieces of furniture and other items give some idea of the purpose of the rooms and a flavour of Dickens’ life.
Mary Hogarth, sister of Dickens’ wife Catherine, lived with the family and her sudden death caused them a severe blow. It is said that Charles never fully recovered from the loss and that it colours the death scenes of young women in his novels.
Despite the family’s relatively short stay at 48 Doughty Street, Dickens produced a number of important works here. He must have spent quite a lot of time in his study working.
Like most museums of the kind, the Dickens Museum is both interesting and frustrating. Dickens and his family seem ever to elude your grasp as you wander through the rooms where the lack of furniture and personal belongings is compensated for by other kinds of material, such as pictures, posters and information boards.
Afterwards we went for a stroll down Lambs Conduit Street, where the trees and the shops were prettily illuminated and I was rather taken by this old dairy, now a jewellery shop.
We knew that the Sir Nigel Gresley was due back at King’s Cross at 8:30 pm so, after a brief return home, we went down the hill to St Pancras where we had supper in Carluccio’s restaurant, before going across to King’s Cross.
It was always going to be difficult to get photographs of the locomotive because of the crush of interested spectators, so I started with a distance shot from the next platform.
Built in 1937, this locomotive achieved a record speed of 112 mph in May 1959.
Just as I was taking the above picture, the driver blew the whistle to signal departure. The sound was so loud and interacted with my hearing aids so that I was disabled by the shock and the pain. The whistle kept sounding and I thus missed any hope of photographing the departing train. The hearing in my left ear remained dulled for some time afterwards.
We finished the day with friends in the bar of the Premier Inn just up the road from King’s Cross station, where my hearing gradually returned to normal. It had been a busy day but a good one. And we got the laundry done!