Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Charles Dickens links with Barnet

The cabinet of Barnet Council discuss bringing back the workhouse
Today was the 200th Birthday of Charles Dickens. Dickens had many links with Barnet, you may be interested to know Charles Dickens opinion of the area :-

Victorian London - Directories - Dickens's Dictionary of London, by Charles Dickens, Jr., 1879 - "Barnet"

Barnet.—A pretty and still tolerably rural suburb, but on the north side of London and on clay. Perhaps the best situation on that side and standing high, its fell name being, in fact, High Barnet. Locally it is considered “the highest ground between London and York.” In September (4th to 6th) there is a huge horse and cattle fair, one of the most important in the kingdom. The best part of Barnet, from a residential point of view, is the ring of villas round the common. Rents, compared with those in choices spot on the south side, fairly moderate, From King’s-cross, Ludgate-hill, Moorgate, and Broad-street (about 37 min.), 1st, 1/6, 2/6; 2nd, 1/2, 1/10; 3rd, -/9.  
Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

Local legend has it that Charles Dickens used to drink at the Red Lion.

Barnet is the home to many pubs, and it was even recognised for this in Charles Dickens novel, “Oliver Twist”, it became the location where Oliver first met the Artful Dodger. Barnet workhouse is said to have been the inspiration for the workhouse in the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist after a friend of his paid a visit to the establishment and heard one its young inmates "ask for more".

It is a matter of great sadness to the Barnet Eye that so many young people are completely unaware of the rich history of Barnet. Everyone should visit Barnet Museum (sadly still under threat of closure from philistine cuts by Barnet Council - website http://www.barnetmuseum.co.uk/ ).

As I read "A Tale of Two Barnets Cities" I was shocked by the way the current round of cuts and austerity echoes today. These are the opening lines of the book

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times, 
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity, 
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, 
it was the winter of despair, 
we had everything before us, 
we had nothing before us, 
we were all going direct to Heaven, 
we were all going direct the other way

There was a theme which ran through all the works of Charles Dickens. It was that unfairness and social injustice is never acceptable. Although we view Dickens as a writer of novels from a bygone age, the enduring nature of his stories, the strength of the characters in his works and the message are still relevant today. The following text is from the wikipedia entry for Charles Dickens. He is one of my role models. I make no claim that my writing is in any way a patch on his, but he is an inspiration, one I believe we should all look to :-

Dickens highlighted the life of the forgotten poor and disadvantaged within society. Through his journalism he campaigned on specific issues—such as sanitation and the workhouse—but his fiction probably demonstrated its greatest prowess in changing public opinion in regard to class inequalities. He often depicted the exploitation and oppression of the poor and condemned the public officials and institutions that not only allowed such abuses to exist, but flourished as a result.
I hope that those of you who regularly read this blog recognise some echoes of the great mans influence in what I write. How sad is tt that 200 years after the great mans birth, we are still talking about these issues


Mrs Angry said...

This is something which really interests me too. Where I live in Finchley used to be part of Cobley's Farm, where he stayed when he was writing parts of Martin Chuzzlewit, and he wrote about walking the lanes around here, supposedly basing the character of Mrs Gamp on a Finchley woman.

As for the Workhouse, this building was built in the early 1830s, one of the first of its kind. I tried to campaign to stop them knocking it down a few years ago as part of the new Hospital development. The workhouse had been cleverly left off the plans when approved by the council, of course. After lobbying the then Labour leader, he added it to the local schedule of protected buildings: and the developers knocked it down anyway. What for? A car park. Which has never been built.

This is how we look after our heritage in Barnet: just disgraceful.

Mr Mustard said...

In this week's Observer crossword one of the answers was GAMP a large baggy umbrella named after the said lady.

With the new Ideas website up and running you will be able to suggest a workhouse to Barnet Council once again Mrs Angry and they will consider it in all seriousness.

baarnett said...

According to Dickens, Brian appeared to be the mere result of habit, and to have no connection with any mirthful or complacent feeling.

A cold-hearted fellow of iniquity, he became quasi-Leader of Essex Park Hall, after cruelly evicting the tenants, Little Nell Angry and her destitute grandfather, Mr Mustard. Brian pursued the forlorn pair with unremitting hatred, finally driving them to their torturous, exhausting blog incorporation into the Barnet Eye.

'You're right there,' returned the councillor, highly gratified by the compliment, for such he evidently considered it; and grinning like a devil as he rubbed his hands together.

'Ask Richard, obedient, timid Richard. But that reminds me - I have left him all alone in North London Business Park, and he will be anxious, and know not a moment's peace from the Senior Officers till I return.'

'I know he's always in that condition when I'm away, though he doesn't dare to say so. Unless I lead him on, and tell him he may speak freely, and I won't be angry with him. Oh! well-trained Richard.'

Vicki Morris aka Citizen Barnet said...

Barking (a town in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, previously in Essex).