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Childhood in Dickensian London exhibition opens 20 January 2020


A new exhibition Childhood in Dickensian London opens 20 January 2020, to mark the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens's death, celebrate his life, and work as one of the world’s most-loved writers on childhood.

Childhood in Dickensian London poster including London skyline and children from Dickensian times

A new exhibition Childhood in Dickensian London opens 20 January 2020, to mark the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens's death, celebrate his life, and work as one of the world’s most-loved writers on childhood. The exhibition explores Victorian London from the 1830s until the turn of the twentieth century, focusing on Dickens’s child characters and exploring the role of Dickens writing in helping to create a better childhood for us all. It is free and open to the public until 20 June 2020 at Senate House Library, University of London.

On display are some first edition copies of Dickens’s most-loved novels, examples of his journalism, and some intricate drawings and sketches of Dickens and the characters he created. There are also books and documents relating to wider social reform in Victorian-era London, all of which are from Senate House Library's vast collections. These are complemented by some of Dickens’s personal items, such as one of his walking sticks used on his ‘night walks’ in London, on loan from The Charles Dickens Museum in London. 

There are four themes in the exhibition (listed below) and over 80 items on display exploring the issues experienced by children growing up in Victorian London. Focusing on social injustice through Dickens’s best-known deprived child characters, you can put yourself in the shoes of a young child growing up in the 1800s and consider how much things have changed two centuries on. 


  • Master Storyteller
  • Want and Welfare
  • Criminality and Redemption
  • Labour and Learning

Exhibition Highlights:

  • An original first printing of A Christmas Carol dated 1843.
  • Miniature novelty editions of Dickens’s ‘Christmas Books’ with illustrations (size approx.. 1”x1”)  
  • A rare engraving by Luke Fildes of ‘The Empty Chair, Gad’s Hill – 9 June 1870’. It depicts Dickens’s library at his Gad’s Hill home in Kent with an empty chair to represent and mourn the loss of Dickens, drawn shortly after Dickens’s death.
  • Sketches of Dickens at a variety of different ages throughout his life
  • Book art & images of his characters/scenes of his most well-known novels
  • Street Life in London – a rare collection of photos of 19th century Britain, one of the earliest examples of photojournalism.
  • Map of London, 1900 – a unique map depicting the last days of the Victorian era, using colour to highlight the Poor Law Union areas plotting the workhouses.
  • London: A Pilgrimage by Gustave Dore and Blanchard Jerrold, 1872 – A collaboration between the English Journalist and French artist that took 4 years to prepare, this book is full of illustrations of 19th century London and was criticised at the time for showing a London of extremes.  


  • Exhibition curation: Leila Kassir &  Tansy Barton
  • Exhibition planning & engagement: Dr Maria Castrillo & Rebecca Simpson
  • Exhibition design: Rebecca Simpson
  • Exhibition artwork & animation: Ric Comline, Thierry Levy, Lawrence Scanlon & Ava Millard at Blind Pig Animation
  • Digital imaging & online exhibition site: Dave Jackson & Russell Kennedy
  • Exhibition conservation: Yunsun Choi  

Exhibition Advisory Board:

  • Lucinda Dickens-Hawksley – Author & Dickens’s great-great-great granddaughter
  • Peter Higginbotham – Author & Historian
  • Dr Peter Merchant – Canterbury Christ Church University
  • Professor Laura Peters – University of Roehampton
  • Louisa Price – The Charles Dickens Museum
  • Dr Ruth Richardson – Author & Historian
  • Professor Michael Slater – Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study
  • Dr Cindy Sughrue – The Charles Dickens Museum

With special thanks to The Charles Dickens Museum, and Senate House Library colleagues Dr Richard Espley, Argula Rublack and Alea Baker for their support.