Charles Dickens Museum

In Historic Houses on November 24, 2011 at 7:23 am

Bloomsbury is a bit of a museum hub, but there again, what bit of London isn’t? I decided to venture off the beaten track a little this week though, and paid a visit to the Charles Dickens Museum.

The Dickens Museum has recently had a revamp, and now boasts a larger café and shop, as well as looking spiffy. It does look lovely, and it’s a beautiful townhouse to have a quick wander around of an afternoon – it’s the only chance some of us will ever get to step into a townhouse just off Russell Square, that’s for sure. The shop seemed a bit expensive, but the café didn’t – I didn’t have time to stop for a cuppa on this occasion, but you can have free access to the shop and café at any time (which is a great idea that more small museums need to cotton on to, frankly) so I will head back next time I’m in the ‘hood to try out some deliciously homemade looking cake.

Apart from its loveliness as a house, though, it’s quite disappointing, and dare I say it? Boring. The whole place was a bit ‘meh’. You start your visit in the basement, watching an introductory video. You’re sat in a library, which in itself is beautiful, but on hideous modern chairs and an unconcealed flat screen tv – no effort has been made to integrate it into the house at all. The video is overly long (I was praying for death by the time we hit the 25 minute mark, but I stuck it out for you guys), and it’s read by someone with Ron Burgundy-esque autocue skills. Its not funny or interesting, and says very little about the house itself. Apart from anything else, it isn’t a video – it’s an audio slideshow, that was made at least 10 years ago by the looks of the fashions in some of the modern pictures. The room its in is also very noisy – the open door leads straight to some very loud, uncarpeted stairs, and the giftshop is directly above you – I struggled to hear the narrator. I think he was struggling to hear himself.

After that, you take a quick (much quicker than the video) spin through rooms in the house. Again, they’re lovely, but there’s nothing to capture your imagination. The interpretation is lacklustre, with most information coming from laminated print outs. There were ‘Do Not Touch’ signs everywhere, which I’m sure we all agreed is lazy practise back in the 70s, and there are huge display cases (far too big for the rooms they are in) ruining the household atmosphere.

Having been a tourguide, I know I’m biased, but I think this museum is crying out for guided tours instead of the dodgy slideshow and empty rooms. A human touch might save this from being a bit mediocre – it needs more than lick of paint to bring it to life. There’s not much of an atmosphere, and I left not knowing a whole lot about Mr Dickens, apart from the fact that his beard was pretty weird (even for Movember). The interpretation feels old-fashioned, and it feels like it hasn’t been thought through in a long while. Lovely house, lovely café – shame about the museum, really.

  1. I wonder how many times I have walked past this building without realising I could go in? Must pop in next time I am doing my Bloomsbury thing.

    • I would say call in, yes! It is really a fantastic house, and the cake looked a)generous and b) scrummy.

  2. Nice bookcase, by the way. Even nicer to see one full of books. Looks familiar.

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