A Dickensian Christmas in London

When you imagine a Dickensian Christmas, what comes to mind? Austere surroundings? Dark, winding, lantern-lit London alleyways?  Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge?

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The Charles Dickens Museum opened its doors this week after the completion of a £3 million restoration and just in time for patrons to experience a true “Dickensian Christmas.”  The 5-story house, located at 48 Doughty Street, was Charles Dickens’ home when he wrote Oliver TwistBarnaby Rudge and Nicholas Nickleby. The restoration is exquisite, the rooms carefully curated and the house filled with items related to young Mr. Dickens and his family.

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Letters to and from Mr. Dickens and framed first editions hang in the Entry Hall
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Personal artwork and family heirlooms are displayed in the dining room.

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His favorite chair, a reading podium and items collected in his travels are displayed in the Sitting Room.
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Much of what Charles Dickens wrote about was gleaned from his life, observations and experiences.  This innocuous Wash House copper bowl usually held the washing, except for once a year when it was scrubbed and filled with Christmas pudding as it was in A Christmas Carol.

“Martha didn’t like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper”   A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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Dickens_dreamHis writing desk, quill and inkstand used to create Fagan, Bill Sykes, Wackford Squeers and Ralph Nickleby sit in a library filled with signed editions and a stunning painting titled Dickens Dream.

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His personal effects; razor, moustache scissors and other toiletry items are encased in glass in his upstairs bedroom.  I took dozens of pictures today, but only included a few rooms here.  It’s tempting to post them all, but I think it a more personal and meaningful experience if you go and visit. As the Ghost of Christmas Present said …”Come in, and know me better,man!”

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When you’ve finished the tour, make time to visit the tiny tea shop in the back of the house.  You can have a cup of tea and make a list of Dickens’ novels you need to read and re-read.  I had a cup of tea and toasted Mrs. Johnson, my 9th grade English teacher, who taught me to love them all.

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The Museum is hosting a number of special Christmas events.

Dickensian Christmas Walks  10:30 to 12:30 and 5:15 to 7:15 (The night walk…very atmospheric after a museum visit, but both are excellent). £7  There is a special walk and museum visit package scheduled for Boxing Day (26 December).

A Christmas Carol with Michael Slater  Highly recommended dramatic reading in perfect surroundings.  Tuesday, 18 December 6:30 to 8:30  Tickets £12. Not suitable for children under 10. Tickets can be booked here.

A Very Dickensian Christmas  December 24, 25 and 26th  Minced pies, mulled wine, festive readings and classic film screenings.  Highly advised to book ahead.  11am to 6pm (last entry at 5).  Admission £18 adults, £8 children

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Christmas in London/ Ice Skating!

There is something incredibly festive about skating in an open-air rink under the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree. London has a number of rinks open until early/mid-January, so bundle up your family or your date and head out to enjoy an afternoon or evening on the ice.

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Photo courtesy of Somerset House

The courtyard at Somerset House provides a picture-perfect venue for open-air skating  The rink offers skating lessons on weekends and a kids club for under-8s and  Club Night for adults only.  The rink-side cafe provides a place to skaters and non-skaters to warm-up and enjoy a hot toddy, mulled wine or hot chocolate.  Check details before you go. Open now until 6 January.  If you do pop by Somerset House, make time to shop at The Christmas Arcade, featuring the best in British design.

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The Natural History Museum provides a beautiful backdrop for an afternoon or evening on the ice.  The rink offers skate rental, an additional small rink for the little ones and a cafe for hot drinks and hand-warming.  Penguins stablizers are available for non-skaters.  Check details here .

hampton-court-panorama  photo courtesy of AboutBritian

Hampton Court Palace, a short train ride from central London, sets a stunning scene for a festive afternoon.  The rink sits next to the Palace and offers skate rentals, lessons and space for approximately 250 skaters.  Booking ahead is advised.  If you do go, make a day of it and enjoy what the Palace has to offer during the holiday season.  Check here for details and online bookings. Open now until January 13th.

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Fancy skating in the moat of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress?  Skaters can enjoy gliding under the backdrop of the Tower of London before warming themselves with hot drinks in the nearby Moat Cafe.  Spectators are welcome to watch from the warmth of the cafe as well.  Details here.  Open now until 6 January.

Also, check my post about the festivities and rink in Hyde Park/Winter Wonderland.

Enjoy!

Christmas In London / Markets and Fairs

I have great respect for people with artistic and creative talents, probably because I don’t have any.  The Mister and I joined the “shop small and local” movement a few years ago and do our best to support local artisans and small businesses, especially at gift-giving time.  Most of the Christmas markets have a wide variety of gifts and trinkets, but I just hadn’t found what I’m looking for …so, we headed out to Chelsea Physic Gardens for their annual Christmas market and fair to see what they had on offer.

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Chelsea Physic Garden was established in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries to grow and study medicinal plants.  It is a lovely, 4 acres hidden behind brick walls on Swan Lane in SW3 and to this day promotes botanical education, conservation and research.  This weekend, in addition to the lovely gardens, it hosted tent after tent of talented artisans and their wares…

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beautiful handcrafted wooden bowls and clocks…

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handmade soaps…

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gourmet chocolates (and samples)…

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jams, jellies and chutneys (and samples)…and so many other spectacular things I didn’t photograph.  There were children’s toys and games, cashmere and leather goods, Christmas greenery and spectacular gifts. Did I mention all the samples?Drinking chocolate-1

After we finished browsing and shopping, we fortified ourselves with a cup of hot drinking chocolate from Rococo Chocolates before wandering through the gardens.

Chelsea Physic Garden

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The gardens and greenhouses provide a lovely backdrop for a relaxing walk and plenty of inspiration for aspiring gardeners.

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London hosts number of fairs and Christmas markets between now and Christmas Day (see my posts on Southbank and Winter Wonderland/Hyde Park).

I’ll be attending the following fairs and markets:

We Make London   Thursday 13th December to Sunday 16th December   11am to 5:30pm (Sunday 4pm)  Riverside, London SE1 2DB  OR  Saturday, 22 December at Old Spitalfields Market

Real Food Christmas Market  14th December to 16th December 12-6   Southbank Centre Square

Secret Emporium Christmas Market   15h & 16 December  10:30 – 8   Hearn Street  Shoreditch

Also, while not a “fair”  per se, Gray’s Antiques market is hosting a Christmas Shopping Party on Thursday, 6 December from 5pm to 8pm.  An invite is required.  You can “like” them on Facebook or email them to request an invite. 

Christmas In London…Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park

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I’ve been on a quest to sample as many London Christmas markets and activities as possible between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Today’s schedule included a visit to the Alpine/German themed Christmas market in the Southeast corner of Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland.

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I entered the park through the North entrance, close to the ferris wheel and tilt-a-whirl.  I really prefer the more traditional, low-key craft-type markets and this had a more…ummm…Santa-on-acid vibe.   I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first, but walking through the crowd watching little kids laughing, moms and dads sharing bumper cars and middle-aged couples dancing to Christmas disco music, it grew on me.

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 Mercifully, the fair organizers placed beer and wine huts at regular intervals throughout the ride and carnival section of Winter Wonderland.

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The food choices were endless…cookies, candies, sausages, kebab and various items ending in  -wurst.  Perfect for fueling up for a few passes around the ice rink.

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The Winter Wonderland rink is supposedly the largest outdoor rink in the UK.   The ice wasn’t very crowded early in the evening.  The area around the rink was crowded with spectators, clearly enjoying the spectacle of the very patient “ice guides” leading the tourists/novices lurching around the ice.  The skate hut rents skates for both kids and adults or you can bring your own.  I can’t wait to bring the Mister back with me.

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The ambience of the park changes at twilight.  As daylight fades, the crowds swell, the lights glow and “biergardens” and “pubs” throughout the market turn into happy post-work gathering places, filled with live music and free-flowing beer.

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Angel’s Market has row after row of chalets filled with things to sample and buy…

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I had a great time walking around Winter Wonderland with a cup of mulled wine to warm my hands. Entrance is free and it’s a great evening out even if you don’t plan on riding rides or hanging out in the biergarten…bundle up! It’s cold out there.

Things to know

Ambiance is best late afternoon or evening…probably more crowded as well.  Can’t have everything!

Entrance is free.  Rides are between 2 and 4 tokens (tokens are £1 each) and ATM’s are available.

Check times and information here…Winter Wonderland.

Christmas In London…Twinkle, Twinkle, Christmas Lights

One of our favorite family traditions involves a trip to  New York City around the holidays.  We admire the big tree in Rockefeller Center, watch the skaters beneath the tree and walk by all the spectacular, animated window displays.  We’ll have Christmas in London this year and enjoy all a London Christmas offers, beginning with Christmas lights.   Nothing sets the  mood for the holidays like walking past millions of twinkling lights.  The Mister and I began our tour of lights on Regent Street (above) which boasts a Twelve Days of Christmas theme.  The first display has a partridge in a pear tree, the second….well, you know how it goes.  Beautiful.

Our next stop was Carnaby Street for a Rock n’ Roll and Rolling Stones Christmas….

and past the Christmas trees encircling Liberty department store.

We braved the Oxford Street crowds, which, around Christmas, can make you lose your will to live.  Oxford Street was decorated from end to end with a…variety of themes.   The stars were spectacular and my personal favorite.

Nothing says Christmas like two reindeer fighting over a jar of Marmite…

or an elf  flying with a grilled cheese sandwich?

Debenhams and John Lewis department stores were literally wrapped in beautiful lights.  Selfridges had a more subdued theme with lit garland and beautiful window displays.

We wandered north to Marylebone High Street, which was quite festive with lit ornaments and pretty store windows.

South Moulton Street lined the length of their pedestrian walkway with towering arches of  blue, twinkling lights.

The jewelry and boutique stores in Mayfair took a classic approach to decorating.  Fitting for the neighborhood, yes?   I plan on walking through Covent Garden and St. James sometime soon.  I suggest you  go find your special someone (children are especially keen) and walk through the streets of London.  Check here for a wonderous light display near you…

Question:   I haven’t seen one doorway wreath or string of Christmas lights in a window! I’m not looking for anything over-the-top, but no lights? No candles? Do people not decorate their houses?