King's College London
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Charles Dickens: a writing lifetime

Youth

View showing the interior of the hall at Doctors' Commons textDoctors' Commons, from Charles Knight's London, vol.5, 1843 [Miscellaneous DA677 LON]The Dickens family emerged from the prison with their debts paid off by a legacy from Charles Dickens's grandmother, who had died while her son was incarcerated in the Marshalsea. Now they were able to find a home on the northern edge of London in Somers Town, and young Dickens was sent to school again until he was 15.

There was a settled period of four years in this district (1825-8) punctuated once by the humiliation of eviction for non-payment of local rates. Another settled period followed when the family returned for two years or more to their old lodgings above the grocer's shop in Marylebone where they had first lived when Dickens was small (1815-7), between the Middlesex Hospital and the workhouse. Dickens was aged between 17 and 19 during this period, and was adult enough to have his own calling-card.

By this time, 1829-31, Dickens's father had been pensioned off from the Navy because of ill health, and he had become a freelance newspaper reporter, a very insecure means of earning a living for a large family. Young Dickens had been a junior law clerk, working in Gray's Inn and at Lincoln's Inn (neither far from the Maughan Library) when he left school at 15. But he swiftly grew to despise the law, and followed his father's footsteps into journalism instead. He trained himself in shorthand and became first a court reporter covering assorted trials, and at Doctors' Commons (an ecclesiastical court dealing with marriages and wills) and eventually became a well-thought of Parliamentary reporter for the Mirror of Parliament. He subsequently succeeded in becoming a news reporter for the Morning Chronicle.

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