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The Curious Case of the Closure of the Charles Dickens Museum

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Wednesday, Jan 25, 2012
Partial of Mr. Charles Dickens’s Last Reading. Source: Leighton, George C.: “Illustrated London News Vol 56” (1870)
Charles Dickens is a national, if not international, cultural figure. Is it such a problem that the London museum dedicated to him will be closed for the bicentenary?

Charles Dickens Bi-Centenary Year

(2012: Various worldwide, e.g Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey)

The Charles Dickens House Museum, 48 Doughty Street, represents the preservation of the author’s London home and proudly advertises the fact that it houses over 100,000 artefacts. These range from original manuscripts, personal belongings, images, and rare editions of the novels. It’s where he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. All very significant, as their website, Dickens, demonstrates.

But be warned, those of you who might be planning on following the Dickens trail during 2012, his bicentenary year. If you follow this link, “Great Expectations renovation project will start in April 2012”, you will find a surprise in store. As of April 2012 the Dickens House Museum in London will be closed for the remainder of the year. Yes, it pulled me up short as well! Of all the times to carry out refurbishments; and you’d have thought they would have seen this one coming.
Apparently the National Lottery Heritage funding award has to be spent this year. Or so they have claimed, but that has not been upheld by the Fund itself. They have said that there is no restriction or time limit to the award. (See “Charles Dickens Museum to shut for 200th anniversary year” Charles Dickens Museum to shut for 200th anniversary year, BBC News, 11 January 2012.)

Hmmm, all very mysterious, and strange indeed in that it is such a missed opportunity, what with the London Olympics and the anticipated increase in tourist traffic, I would say. The museum’s position is that the re-opening in 2013 will mean a whole new start and a fulfilment of their original mission, to play a key role in the cultural dissemination of Dickens and his work. To be fair, they are also supporting the campaigns for wider reading and events at the Gads Hill Place Centre, Dickens’s former home in Kent, now a private school, (Gads Hill Day School, Higham, Kent.)

In addition to this they are loaning out items for the exhibition at The Watts Gallery in Compton, Surrey, ‘Dickens and The Artist’ which will run from June to October 2012 (Watts This setting is the former home of George Frederick Watts, the foremost portrait artist of the Victorian period, and one of my personal all-time favourite treasure troves, a real secret gem of a gallery. 

So, all in all, something of a contradiction in terms and a situation that has prompted much criticism. However, Charles Dickens is a national cultural figure, if not international. There are locations all around the capital and the country (for example at least three houses in Kent that he was known to have lived in) that are significant.

He was also a man of many parts: a speaker, actor, travel writer, editor – and so perhaps the lack of access to one particular residence is not such a great loss. We might, some of us, be suffering from Dickens fatigue by the end of the year, and so a fresh start and a new centre for 2013 could be a welcome thing.

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