Literary London, London
Update April 2014: prices and information checked and updated
A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited, through my work, to a private evening tour of Dr Samuel Johnson’s House – the first time I had visited this historic home. But there’s no need for you to wait for such an invitation as the house is open to the general public.
Dr Johnson was the author of the famous dictionary that bears his name, and by all accounts (or at least, according to all that our wonderfully informative guide told us) was quite a character. He actually lived in quite a few different houses in this part of town, but it was here that he actually compiled the dictionary. He lived here between 1748 and 1759, and the house has largely been restored to how it would have looked at that time. On display are numerous pictures of Johnson and his wide circle of friends, some furniture of the period and an extensive library. You can browse the pages of a replica of the first edition of the diary, and learn a lot about London life at that time.
Usually your visit will be self-guided (an audio guide is available for an additional fee), but if you can get together a group of between 10 and 25 people you can pre-book a tour (at the reduced admission rate of £3.50 per person, or £10 in the evening when the house is closed to other visitors). This is something I would definitely recommend based on the one we had. We learned so much about Johnson’s character, his life and the many other (mostly famous) people in his circle. You can book a tour by calling the number below or via the website.
The house is open Monday-Saturday, from 11.00 am to 5.30 pm May-September, and 11.00 am to 5.00 pm October-April. Admission for adults is £4.50 at the time of writing (spring 2014), £3.50 for seniors and £1.50 for children. You can get a family ticket for £10.00.
Outside the house, don’t miss the small statue of Johnson’s cat Hodge at the other (eastern) end of the small square.
Many homes of famous authors have become museums, but this is not so frequent with literary characters. One of the few is Sherlock Holmes's home.
221b Baker Street is certainly one of the most famous addresses in the world, so it does not seem strange to me that a house in that street, which was registered as a lodging house from 1860 to 1934, consistently with the times of Holmes's adventures, has been turned into a museum of that famous character.
Apart from the interest for Arthur Conan Doyle's sleuth, the place is extremely interesting because it is full of objects that really belong to the late 19th century, from Holmes's chemical tools to the toiletries in his bedroom. For those who are interested in the lifestyles of the past, like me, this small museum is fascinating.
It is open every day from 9.30 am to 6.30 pm. Entrance tickets are sold in the shop of Holmes memorabilia located on the ground floor.
This fantastic museum is often overlook, or worse, mistaken for being inside the British Museum. Many people go to the British Library looking for the Magna Carta and when they find out its actually here, they do not come over for a visit. Also, most tours of London will not even mention its existence. It is a hidden gem of London and easy to get to! They have lots to see including:
• Two copies of the Magna Carta (1215)
• Two Gutenberg Bibles
• The only surviving manuscript of the poem Beowulf
• The Diamond Sutra - the world's oldest dated printed book
• An original copy of the Domesday Book
• The Codex Arundel - a notebook written by Leonardo da Vinci
• Working manuscripts by Composers Bach & Mozart
• The Lindisfarne Gospels (from the North East of England)
Mon 09.30 - 18.00
Tue 09.30 - 20.00
Wed 09.30 - 18.00
Thu 09.30 - 18.00
Fri 09.30 - 18.00
Sat 09.30 - 17.00
& English Public Holidays 11.00 - 17.00
Please note - no photography is allowed so my photo is a bit naughty.
This plaque to Wynkyn de Worde can be found at Stationers Hall near St Pauls Cathedral.
You probably won't have heard of Wynkyn de Worde! He studied under William Caxton who set up the first printing press in England. After William Caxton's death, Wynkyn de Worde decided to move himself across London to Fleet Street around the year 1500. He was the first printer to base himself in Fleet Street. If you are British, you will know Fleet Street as being famous for the old home of newspaper printing (before they all moved to Wapping). Wynkyn de Worde is described as being the Father of Fleet Street.
In Elizabethan (1557-1603) London, William Shakespeare was writing some of the most famous plays in history, which are still popular today. The South Bank (of the Thames) is known for its arts & entertainment, and as recently as 1997, a new landmark was opened to the public. This is the Globe Theatre, a recreation of the original Globe, which was an open air theatre at the time of Shakespeare, many of his plays were premièred here. In the course of history the original theatre was demolished as Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth banned arts, and it was only after a visit by an actor Sam Wannemaker, that a plan to authentically reconstruct the Globe theatre in the same style. There is an open space in front of the stage, called the yard where the audience would stand and sometime heckle the actors, and surrounding the stage & yard were tiered seats. Plays were performed in daylight. However the theatre is as authentic as modern Health & Safety will allow. In order to help the financing of the theatre there are informative tours of the Globe, as well as a permanent exhibition of costumes, and Elizabethan musical instruments, a cafe & a box office. Tours of the theatre are included in the admission, and we were treated to a very informative tour, by Mel, who was so enthusiastic about her job, and we learned a lot about the history of the theatre from her anecdotes.
If you are a Dickens fan, you would probably know about the Old Curiosity Shop. It is likely one of the oldest, if not the oldest, shops in London given that its been here since around 1567. Although this may, or may not be, true, the building is almost certainly one of the few buildings to survive the Great Fire of London of 1666 which is a wonder as it was made of wood from ships. It gives you an idea of how a London street would have appeared before the Great Fire in the 16th century.
At one time it functioned as a dairy by one of the many mistresses of Charles II. Novadays, it sells upmarket men’s and women’s shoes; I often passed by this place and a closed sign was always displayed on the door and I did not see many people buying stuff from the shop.
The shop is worth seeking out if you are in the area – especially if you need a new pair of shoes.
Open: Monday - Saturday 10.30am - 7pm, Sunday closed.
The world-famous protagonists of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson have inhabited in this victorian style lodging house between 1881-1904, according to the novels.
In the house at number 239, built in 1815, a Sherlock Holmes Museum has been opened to the memory of the legendary Mr. Holmes, where everything has been installed, as it is known from the novels.
A frequently asked question by visitors whether Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson really lived in the house. Although there are no official records of the house early tenants, allegedly somebody, who was working here had a relative a certain Mr. Holmes; while in the neighborhood lived a Doctor Watson in the 1890-years, who was a false teeth maker .
However, from the brilliant stories published in the Strand Magazine, you can learn every little detail of Mr. Holmes and Doctor Watson's life, as if they would have been actually existing persons.
In the gift shop on the ground floor you can go for nothing and get many realistic trinkets of a never existing fictional person, but also all of the Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published between 1887 - 1927: A Study in Scarlet · The Sign of the Four · The Hound of the Baskervilles · The Valley of Fear · The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes · The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes · The Return of Sherlock Holmes · His Last Bow · The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes.
Also a favourite destination of Sherlockians is the small Sherlock Holmes Restaurant at the turn of Northumberland Street, in Westminster not far from Charing Cross . It's a bit of a tourist trap, but worth a visit.
Opening time: 9.30am - 6pm every day
Admission fee: Adults £6, children under 16 £4
You must stroll down Charing Cross Road if you love books... there are bookshops that serve all possible tastes... and when inside leave your bag at the counter and descend beneath the streets of London for some basement browsing... I'll add further tips on my favourite....
Quinto (pictured) is good if you're after second hand or antiquarian books - pick a bargain or a a rare edition... they change their stock every few weeks... always worth a repeat visit.
This was Charles Dickens' home during the later writings of Pickwick Papers, and where he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.
The house itself is not large by today's standards - about 10 rooms within three stories. Here, however, you can imagine life as Dickens knew it, during his happier days with his wife Catherine.
Admission was 4 pounds per person, March 2002.
"HG Wells woz ere", well I can imagine that he would have probably written it a little more eloquently than that! I doubt that HG Wells needs any introduction, having written books such as the Time Machine and War of the Worlds.
You probably won't want to go out of your way to see this sign, but if you come out of Bakers Street station and turn right (instead of the usual left to Madame Tussauds), then take the very first road on the right (which is Baker Street - better known for the fictional character Sherlock Holmes) and look up almost as soon as you turn, you will see this sign. You'll probably walk past it if you are heading to Regents Park, or to the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
Kenneth Grahame is well known in the UK (at least) for his children's book "Wind in the Willows" which is about animals living along a river bank - a mole, a water rat and a toad all feature predominantly if memory serves me well. Well actually the toad was a bit of a rich playboy and lived in Toad Hall, but you get the idea.
As I don't know how well known this book is outside the UK, it's hard to say how useful this tip will be to 'foreigners', but if you do know the book, then you can find this house at 16 Phillimore Place, which is a road that runs parallel to Kensington High Street (you'll need to go down Argyle Street to find it). Best tube is probably Kensington High Street.
It's near to Bill Wyman's Sticky Fingers restaurant, so you may wish to go past that whilst you're in the area.
The Dickens House Museum is an underrated London landmark. Here Charles Dickens had his second home. He lived here for about two years, and while here wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickelby, two of my favorite books.
The museum houses scores of items owned and used by Charles Dickens himself--including his writing desk and lucky glass monkey figurine! It also showcases the story of his life, rare portraits, letters, and clothes. Definitely worth a visit for literature lovers!
As a child, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, was one of my greatest heroes. Holmes was rivalled in my mind by only one another man who spends time in London--Doctor Who. I mean, although well paired in intelligence, skill, deduction, and wit, the Doctor had a time machine, so how could Sherlock really compete against that? With a full-day London Underground pass and seeing the Baker Street tube stop, my curiosity got the best of me and I had to step out to look around. When you look closely at the tiles in the Baker Street tube, they're all little effigies at Sherlock. Some of the platforms have murals depicting scenes from the Holmes books. When you exit the station you're greeted by a 9-foot tall bronze statue of the detective. Unveiled on September 23, 1999, and sculpted by John Doubleday, it appeared to me that from the shine on one of the shoes that people rub the toe for luck. Or for greater intelligence maybe?
At Sherlock's famous address, 221b Baker Street, there is "The Sherlock Holmes Museum", dedicated to the life and times of the detective. It is decorated as a home would be in the Victorian era and has recreations of his study and Doctor Watson's bedroom, wax figures depicting scenes from the stories, and a gift shop. I opted not to visit the museum because I was wary about the idea of visiting a home where a fictional character was said to have lived. The museum is open every day (except Christmas) from 9:30am to 6:00pm.
Charles Dickens' writing desk, used throughout his life--right under my nose!
Yes, I'm a big fan, but I found this fascinating. :) I do wish they would move it away from the direct sunlight for preservation, though.
There is a small gift shop in this museum as well, where you can find books, keychains, and other souvenirs.
Foyles, was once the biggest shop in the world... I'm not sure its still the case... it does (in my opinion) have the most comprehensive stocks, particularly good for foreign language literature... the cafe come jazz music shop can be very crowded... and only one toliet... I always use Borders opposite if I need the loo...