(pictures are not fully loaded due to problems with wi-fi)
Thursday’s walking tour was by far the most informative and made the most connections to Dickens’ life and background. Our tour guide discussed topics varying from the conditions of poverty in the Victorian Era, the role of women, and where Dickens drew his inspirations from. Our first stop was near The River Thames and The Mudlark, located in front of the very bridge Dickens walked under to obtain ideas for Oliver Twist. This bridge, in fact was the bridge Oliver Twist’s encounters with Sikes took place in the novel. Our tour guide informed us that Dickens would sit on the steps connected to the bridge and observe the night time activities. Many wondered where Dickens obtained such vivid details in the descriptions of London’s Underworld in his novels and it was very rewarding to be able to visit the places he developed his ideas from. What’s even more interesting is that many people who read his novels wondered how he came up with ideas relating to the crime and poverty conditions of London. It makes me realize how divided the classes truly were. To the rich, Dickens must have seemed like he had a great imagination, but in actuality, he was recounting true events and encounters in his novels.
As we continued our tour, our guide spent some time discussing the conditions of women and children in The Victorian Era. Women often had no choice but to become sex workers. Children usually ended up in work houses or did horrible jobs like “pure picking.” which was picking up dog feces with bare hands, since there was no plastic, and selling it to collectors. These jobs often led to infections and disease since there were no proper sanitation methods available to the poor. Although the church thought they were helping, work houses seemed to make things even worse. As we read in Oliver Twist, children would often starve because they were barely being fed. In Morrison’s Child of The Jago, we can also see the effect of poverty and poor sanitation with the high mortality rates, especially in infants. Death happened so often that it became normal, which explains the lack of much emotion from Dicky Perrot’s parents about the death of his baby sister and their quick return to the pub. The church also did not do much for women. Instead of attempting to get women out of the situations they were in, they simply read The Bible to them. We look back at things like this and they make no sense to us, but this was truly what people believed would solve problems during the time period.
Our tour ended with a visit to Marshalsea Prison. This was the very prison that Charles Dickens’ father was sent to for debt in 1824. I was a little disappointed to find out that the wall had recently been cleaned. It would have been great to see the wall in its original, filthy state to get a better idea of what it looked like. This was another place that Dickens drew inspiration for a novel from. Although we did not read Dickens’ Little Dorrit, our tour guide gave us a brief overview. Little Dorrit’s father was a prisoner at Marshalsea, so she would come and go from the prison and sleep there. Unfortunately, one night the prison gates were closed as she returned and she had to seek shelter elsewhere. This story is another perfect example of the extent of poverty and the conditions children faced during the era. Dickens used the experiences and people he encountered to bring awareness to the social issues of his time.
The morning’s events ended with a walk back to Borough Market for some delicious food. Fortunately, we had the luxury of eating the food that was sold there, unlike the poor of The Victorian era, who would search for remnants in the late hours of the night.