The City of London has been associated with a wide number of literary figures for hundreds of years. From writers to poets and even the creator of the English dictionary, the Square Mile has played host to some of the most prominent members of the literati. Whether you’re a fan of Milton, a follower of Dickens or a reader of Austen, use your stay at one of the London serviced apartments to explore the connections between The City and great literature.
Dr Johnson, the 18th century writer and lexicographer, took up residence at 17 Gough Square and some 300 years later you can visit the house, which now serves as a museum. Much of Dr Johnson’s work took place around Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill and St Paul’s Churchyard, which can be connected together to make a great walk, following in the creator of the English dictionary’s footsteps.
If you want to tick off a whole load of literary connections in one go, then head to a pub that has been popular with writers for centuries. Dr Johnson himself has been among the clientele at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese at 145 Fleet Street, but he is in no way the only man of words to have frequented this Grade II listed building.
Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred Lord Tennyson are all said to have drunk at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, but its most famous customer has to be Charles Dickens. Not only was the author often seen in the pub, but it even featured in some of his works. Scholars are under no doubt that tavern on Fleet Street that Sydney Carton invites Charles Darnay to in A Tale of Two Cities is Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
There are many places in The City associated with Mr Dickens and fans of his works could easily spend a whole day exploring the places known to both the author and his characters. A good place to start is Wood Street, where once stood the Cross Keys Inn. This is where the writer first arrived in London, an event that was recreated with Pip in Great Expectations, whose first impressions of the city were formed here. Although the pub no longer stands, find the two keys crossed on the railings to mark the spot where it once was.
Another Dickens location to look out for in The City is Guildhall, where the trial for breach of Promise is conducted in The Pickwick Papers. Meanwhile, at number 2 Lombard Street a 19-year-old Mr Dickens was invited to a dinner party hosted by Mr and Mrs Beadnell in 1831. He was devoted to their daughter Maria, but a match was never made, although she did become the inspiration for both Dora Splenhow in David Copperfield and Flora Finching in Little Dorrit.
Mr Dickens would have been very familiar with Cheapside, the street that was an important shopping area in the 19th century, and mentioned it in his 1879 book Dickens’s Dictionary of London. There are plenty of other literary associations with Cheapside, however, with poets John Milton and John Herrick both having been born on the street, while Geoffrey Chaucer grew up there.
With the church of St Mary-le-Bow, which houses Bow Bells, standing on Cheapside, it is not surprising that it has inspired plenty of connections to the written word. It is upon on hearing these bells chime that Dick Whittington decides to return to London when he had made up his mind to flee. It is a huge turning point in the story and leads to him becoming Lord Mayor and achieving fame and fortune.
If the first letter of each inscription upon the Bow Bells is taken and put together, they spell out: DWHITTINGTON.
Cheapside is referred to in many other works, including William Wordsworth’s poem The Reverie of Poor Susan; William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I; and As Meat Loves Salt, the 2001 bestselling novel by Maria McCann. Often, the location is depicted in a derogatory way or as a place where bawdy scenes take place. A number of writers have made Cheapside the butt of the joke, from Jane Austen to Hugh Lofting.
Ms Austen writes of those with connections to Cheapside as people to be frowned upon by the elite of society in Pride and Prejudice. Meanwhile, in 1951, Mr Lofting created the character of Cheapside, a sparrow with a London accent, for his novel Doctor Doolittle. The small bird gets pressed into service to deliver mail, as being from the capital he is the only creature capable of navigating city streets.