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See Britain through the eyes of Charles Dickens

September, 2005 - Charles Dickens, Britain’s most famous storyteller, lead generations of readers to Britain through classic novels like “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol.” Now VisitBritain, the national tourist office for England, Scotland and Wales, suggests five ways that travelers can bring Dickens’ Britain to life.

Travelers arriving in London can visit the only surviving Dickens home in Bloomsbury, where he lived from 1837 to 1839. Opened in 1925, the Charles Dickens Museum boasts the world’s most important collection of Dickens artifacts. The museum is home to several rare editions, hand-written manuscripts and original art from Dickens’ career. Budding writers can attend a quill-handling session where they can put one of the author’s own quills to parchment and handle some of his other personal possessions. The museum also hosts a walking tour where visitors can see and experience London through the eyes of the beloved Dickens characters “Oliver Twist” and “David Copperfield.”

While in London, visitors can follow the steps of “Oliver Twist” through the Smithfield Cattle Market in Clerkenwell. Here, visitors can take in the sights, smells and activity of one of London’s oldest street markets in the same Victorian building that Dickens would have known. Livestock is no longer run through the city streets as in Oliver’s time, but visitors can still find a wide variety of fresh produce, meats, cheeses and homemade pies for sale in the modernized interior. Local pubs The Hope and The Fox and Anchor open their doors to the market crowd at 5am, making Smithfield one of the last places in London where travelers can begin their day with a full meal and a pint of ale. From the market, it is just a quick trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where several original Dickens manuscripts are housed in the Forster Collection, or to Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey where the author was finally laid to rest.

Any Dickens-inspired vacation would not be complete without a trip to the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth, England. Dickens was born in this house in 1812, and later returned to it while researching his 1838 novel “Nicholas Nickelby.” Visitors to the museum can see the room where the writer was born, as well as three others that have been restored and furnished in the Regency style of the day. The site is also home to several pieces of Dickens’ memorabilia, including his inkwell and paper knife.

Farther afield in Dickens’ seaside residence of Broadstairs, Kent, visitors will find the Dickens House Museum. While Dickens’ summer residence, Bleak House, is now in private ownership, visitors can see this museum which was used by Charles Dickens as the model for Miss Betsey Trotwood's house in his famous book “David Copperfield.” The building has been adapted and redecorated to reflect the picture painted in Dickens’ novel. Visitors to the museum can also enjoy an exhibition of original artwork by H.K. Browne, one of Dickens’ primary illustrators.

Also in Kent, construction is underway on the state-of-the-art Dickens World in Chatham Maritime. This attraction will give visitors a glimpse of Victorian Britain’s cobblestone streets and picturesque archways while they enjoy modern rides and attractions, when it opens in April 2007. Each winter, visitors will find the characters from “A Christmas Carol” come to life in Rochester’s Dickensian Christmas Festival, complete with real snow and a candlelit Victorian parade down the city’s High Street (December 3 – 4, 2005).

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