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Dickens at 200: 1812–2012

An exhibition in Special Collections

curated by
Jaime Margalotti

London & The Thames

Victorian London was the largest city in the world, as well as one of great contrasts and rapid change. Between Dickens’s birth in 1812 and his death in 1870, the population exploded from about 900,000 to 3.3 million. While the Industrial Revolution brought the population to the city to work in manufacturing and great wealth to some, it also fostered pollution, overcrowding, and dangerous labor conditions for adult and child workers. At the same time, the railroad also fundamentally altered both commerce and transportation.

Pierce Egan.

Life in London, or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorne, esq., and His elegant friend Corinthia Tom: accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian: in their rambles and sprees through the metropolis. Embellished with thirty–six scenes from real life; designed and etched by I. R. & G. Cruikshank; and enriched also with numerous original designs on wood, by the same artists. London, Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1821.

Pierce Egan (1772–1849) gained fame as a sports reporter, focused primarily on boxing and horse–racing. Between 1821 and 1828 Egan produced a periodical called Life in London. With art by George Cruikshank, the journal featured stories about the duo “Tom and Jerry” who engage in a variety of adventures around London, often involving sports. The “Tom & Jerry” characters became popular both domestically and abroad, inspiring copycat tales, a play, and a cocktail.

George Smeeton.

Doings in London, or, Day and Night Scenes of the Frauds, Frolics, Manners, and Depravities of the Metropolis. Southwark: Published by G. Smeeton ..., 1828.

Smeeton’s widely read Doings in London used a structure similar to Egan, visitors to London relating their activities and impressions, but his purpose was serious criticism, not humor. Illustrations were provided by George Cruikshank’s brother, Robert. Egan and Smeeton’s structure, use of illustration, and interest in people of a wider range of social strata influenced Dickens’s own works.

James Grant.

Lights and Shadows of London Life. By the author of “Random Recollections of the Lords and Commons,” “The great metropolis,” &c. &c. London: Saunders and Otley, 1842.

Francis Coghlan.

The Stranger’s London Guide, or, Visitor’s Companion to Every Object Worthy of Attention in the Metropolis: Including the Places of Public Amusement, Hackney Coach Fares, and a Variety of Useful Information. London: Thomas Geeves, [1834?].

Map of London, circa 1834. Francis Coghlan, publisher of Coghlan’s Continental Guides and father of actor and playwright Charles Francis Coughlan, was a friend of Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens.

Night Walks. Introduction by Harry Stone; illustrated by Barbara J. Raheb. Skokie, Ill.: Black Cat Press, 1982 ([Evanston, Ill.]: Schori Press).

Dickens was unusually restless, often burning off excess energy by walking up to 20 miles at a time. Also a frequent insomniac, he traversed all parts of London during both the day and night, making note of the people and places he encountered. He wrote the essay “Night Walks” in 1860.

River Thames

Flowing through the center of London, the River Thames is a defining feature of the cities topography and influence on its development. During the Victorian era, commercial activity continued to increase and the first steam powered vessels launched. However, the river also became increasingly polluted by sewage, prompting cholera outbreaks in the 1840s. The aptly named “Great Stink” of 1858 spurred the city to engage in improvements to the sewage system throughout the 1860s.

William Edward Trotter.

Select Illustrated Topography of Thirty Miles Around London. London: The Proprietor, [1849].

Thomas Love Peacock.

The Genius of the Thames, Palmyra, and Other Poems. London: T. Hookham, jr., 1812.

Lamentations of Old Father Thames: Tune, What Can the Matter Be. [London]: Pitts, printer, wholesale toy and marble warehouse, 6 Gt. St. Andrew Street, Seven Dials, [between 1819 and 1844].

George Drysdale Dempsey.

Rudimentary Treatise on the Drainage of Towns and Buildings: Suggestive of Sanatory Regulations that Would Conduce to the Gealth of an Increasing Population. London: John Weale, 1849.

Charles Dickens.

Our Mutual Friend. London: Chapman and Hall, 1865 (London: Printed by William Clowes and Sons).

The River Thames features most prominently in Dickens’s later work, Our Mutual Friend. The novel begins with the waterman Gaffer Hexam and his daughter, Lizzie, trolling the polluted river, searching for bodies and stealing anything of value on them. Despite the fetid reality, the river also functions metaphorically, with characters, such as the disguised John Harmon, emerging from it reborn with new identities and attitudes.

Thomas Shotter Boys.

“Entrance to the Strand, From Charing Cross” Original Views of London as It Is. Drawn from nature expressly for this work and lithographed by Thomas Shotter Boys. Exhibiting its principal streets and characteristic accessories, public buildings in connexion with the leading thoroughfares, &c, &c, &c. With historical and descriptive notices of the views by Charles Ollier, 1842 & James Laver, C. B. E., 1954[–1955]. C. W. Traylen Guildford, Eng.

This print includes a glimpse of the entrance to the Hungerford Market, opposite the Westminster Life Insurance office. In his 1955 commentary on the view, James Laver explains that the market was torn down in 1863 to make room for Charing Cross Station. Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, the boot polish factory where young Charles Dickens labored during his father’s time in debtor’s prison, was located in this area.

The Panorama of the Thames from London to Richmond, Exhibiting Every Object on Both Banks of the River: With a Concise Description of the Most Remarkable Places: and a General View of London. [London]: Samuel Leigh, [ca. 1835].

An advertisement in the October 23, 1830, London Literary Gazette, and Journal of Belles Letters describes Samuel Leigh’s panoramas as “Elegant Works for the Drawing–Room Tables” and the Thames panorama specifically: “This Work is upwards of 60 feet in length. Folded up in a portable form, price £1 8s. plain, or £2 16s. beautifully coloured.” The accompanying “View of London” is a more humble 5 feet 6 inches long. The colored version of the panorama is made up of 46 watercolor aquatint prints. Samuel Leigh published “various useful Guides for Travellers on the Continent, &c.”


While Dickens’s characters are fictional, the geography which they inhabit is inspired by real places. Dickens’s readers have been attempting to literally follow in his footsteps since his works were first in print. This selection of guidebooks takes the Dickens aficionado to places of significance in both his novels and life. In addition to London itself, they places like Yorkshire and Rochester, which inspired locations seen in The Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood’s fictional Cloisterham. Although the landscape has changed since Dickens’s time, there are still numerous tour and festivals celebrating ties to Dickens and his fictional creations.

Robert Allbut.

London Rambles “en zigzag” with Charles Dickens. London: S. Drewett, [1886?].

T. P. (Thomas Parsons) Cooper.

With Dickens in Yorkshire. With an introduction by B.W. Matz; numerous illustrations by E. Ridsdale Tate. London: B. Johnson & Co., [1923].

Robert Langton.

Charles Dickens and Rochester. London: Chapman & Hall, 1880. William A. Oliver, Jr. collection related to The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

“Dickensland Attractions,” circa 1981 William A. Oliver, Jr. collection related to The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

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