The rain fell from the ancient tiles like an oily slick; pooling in black lakes on the street below. The night suffocated – with its dank, damp, deathly shroud – the dong of the shivering church bell as it rung out across London. It sounded in chorus with the screeching wind, which scrabbled at the hard, cold gravestones and nipped at the icy faces of all those who were gathered among them, on this dark and inhospitable winter’s night.
A voice whistled across the cemetery, “Scrooge!” In spite of the darkness, the face of the speaker could be made out, his eyes eager and alive as he spoke, “Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” This is what everyone in the audience had been waiting for. We had faced the torment of the wind, the rain and the cold to join the Dickens’ Christmas Walking Tour, and we relished in the author’s descriptions.
…scuttling past this monument of capitalism…
We continued our walk from the church of St Michael Cornhill, through the winding and shadowy alleyways to the Royal Exchange, its prestige glimmering through the sodden night. I imagined Bob Cratchit, after his joyous slide down Cornhill, scuttling past this monument of capitalism on his way home to Camden.
But perhaps I was getting a bit carried away; this is only a story after all. But our tour guide was so generous with his mentions of plum puddings, snow covered streets and Christmas carollers that it was difficult not to expect a hansom cart to go clattering by.
…the pies had been transformed into those that we know and love…
Talking of plum puddings, the guide taught us a lot about the origins of our traditional Christmas fare. Mince pies for example, used to be made with real meat, or if things got really grim, liver. The addition of dried fruit and spices not only made it more flavourful, but also had the benefit of disguising any past-its-prime meat. Fortunately, by the Victorian age the pies had been transformed into those that we know and love today.
It was a joyous moment when we approached Leadenhall Market. Frozen from the rain and looking like – in very Dickension language – a group of sodden wretches, the golden warmth of the indoor market was very much welcomed. Not only was this where Diagon Alley was filmed, but it was also the location of a food market in Victorian times. Now the only signs of its working class past are the meat hooks still on show outside a very upmarket Pizza Express. Although look past the crowds of ‘suits’ socialising outside the cocktail bars, and you might just hear the building echoing the sounds of that bustling market.
…It’s the story of a man changed by the events of one night…
Our tour ended in a tiny courtyard. The only signs of it being a cemetery were the handful of gravestones placed against the walls. Our tour guide pointed with an icy finger towards one of the headstones. In a sombre tone, he recounted Scrooge’s encounter with the third ghost. The rain continued to strike, almost solemnly now, against our umbrellas. Fortunately though, this was a tale which each and every one of us could tell off by heart. It’s the story of a man changed by the events of one night. So it was on a cheerful note that the guide sent us away into the dark night, accompanied by Dickens’ final message, “God Bless Us, Every One”.
The walk was with London Walks. Have a look at their website for other Charles Dickens’ Christmas walks.
Image courtesy of A Christmas Carol