Saturday, January 16th 2016
We started with a stroll to Doughty Street, a modest residential road lined with two terraces of Georgian houses. Halfway along, at number 48, is a house once occupied by that most famous of Victorian novelists, Charles Dickens. He he came to live here, with his new wife, in what is today rejoices in the name of the Charles Dickens Museum. It is, of course, open to the public and photography is allowed without flash. There is a shop, in case you should inspired by your visit to read some or all of the famous novels, and a cafe where you can rest from climbing up and down the stairs. You can even take a turn around the small back garden. The house, incidentally, is Grade I listed.
The museum also owns the house next door where the shop and cafe are located, so as to leave number 48 largely as it would have looked in Dickens’s day.
One of my favourite exhibits is the clock that currently resides in the hall. It is large and solidly made, but not inelegant, and still keeps time and chimes the hours. Its presence is an anachronism, however, because it was not here when Dickens lived in the house but comes from Dickens’s last home, Gad’s Hill Place in Kent.
What follow are a few of the photos I took during our visit. It is not easy photographing the room you are in so I usually take several photos and stitch them together. Other visitors come and go and it’s difficult to get enough photos to make a nice, neat rectangular picture. Trimming photos removes part of the scene and so, in some cases, I have preferred to leave the photos as they emerged from the stitcher, jagged edges and all.
The ground floor and upper floors were the realm of the family. Servants would come here only for specific tasks such as cleaning, lighting fires and serving meals and refreshments. Their realm was ‘below stairs’, in the basement.
The kitchen was where the servants would spend their time during the day. They would eat here as well as preparing meals for the family. They might even sleep here too. Being below ground level and heated summer and winter by the oven, it was badly ventilated, hot and damp. In a corner near the oven is a model of a hedgehog to remind us that hedgehogs were often kept in kitchens to dispose of insects. There were also ‘bug traps’. Note that there was no running water and that pump was required.
Leading off the kitchen was the scullery and the wash house. This dark and windowless space could be used to keep foodstuffs relatively cool at a time when there were no refrigerators.
This large and well-lit room could be used to entertain visitors or hold receptions and perhaps dinners for larger numbers of people.
This desk and accompanying chair in a smaller room are said to be the very ones Dickens used when penning his immortal works.
Perhaps because of the relative compactness of the property as a result of the terrace design, the staircase is quite narrow and rather steep. You would need to take great care negotiating it, especially women wearing the long and elaborate dresses of the day.
This room is at the top of the house and seems to be a converted attic. During the occupancy of the Dickens family, this was the nursery.
This strange object, not what you would expect to find in a nursery. is a grille from Marshalsea debtors’ prison (demolished) where Dickens’s own father was confined for a while. The experience of seeing his father in prison had a profound effect on Dickens and inevitably coloured his writing.
Apart from the rooms themselves, the house contains various mementos of Dickens’s life, such as pictures, manuscripts and letters.
After our visit to the Dickens Museum, we strolled on down to Kings Place near King’s Cross Station in York Way. This institution describes itself as ‘a hub for music, art, dialogue and food, housed in an award-winning building in King’s Cross, which also provides world class conferencing, events and office space’. Our main interests in it are the cafe and the art exhibitions that are held there. Today there wasn’t an exhibition so we made do with photos of a couple of what seem to be resident artworks.
This (undated) piece, looking like a beetle lying on its back, is entitled Ark and is by Steve Dilworth. The label also carries the word ‘Unique’ which I think means that no copies have been made of the work. It seems that quite often, copies of various sizes are made of sculptures, no doubt in the hope of maximizing sales. This is not just a modern fad, however, as some of the most famous works of the past exist in several copies, such as Auguste Rodin’s Le Penseur (The Thinker).
Three jackdaws perched in a schematic tree form the substance of Terence Coventry’s Tree of Jackdaws. In contrast to the previous sculpture, this one is described as an ‘Edition of 10’, so 10 lucky people can each have their very own Tree of Jackdaws.
On a philosophical note, what does this mean for the authenticity of the work of art? Is there an original that is THE work of art that is accompanied by 9 copies that do not enjoy quite the same degree of originality and genuineness (and therefore come at a lower price) or are all 10 considered equal in artistic authenticity and therefore, value? Is there any sense in which the ‘original’ can be distinguished from the ‘copies’ or are all equal and indistinguishable? If the latter, then is a competent forgery not as good as the the original that it pretends to be? What does it matter that the copy, as long as it is accurate, is made by the artist or someone else? As the quality of 3D printing continues to improve, will we see artists mass-producing their works and selling them by the gross?