The London Of Ebenezer Scrooge

M@
By M@ Last edited 23 months ago
The London Of Ebenezer Scrooge

There is no finer festive film than The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Do not argue. This is an objective FACT.

The tale is, of course, based on an almost-as-good short story by Charles Dickens. The great author omits the singing cabbages and the slightly troubling pig-frog Cratchit coupling, but his novella otherwise takes a very similar course. It is also an eminently Londony story, with plenty of references to the capital's landmarks and streets.

Site of Dickens's former home (since rebuilt), and probably inspiration for the Cratchit house.

The Cratchit household

We're told on two occasions that Scrooge's clerk Bob Cratchit lives in Camden Town, along with his wife and children Peter, Martha, Belinda, "two smaller Cratchits" and the selfless Tiny Tim.

It's not disclosed exactly where in Camden this struggling family reside, but Dickens might have had in mind one of his own childhood homes at 16 Bayham Street, where he lived in 1823. This was a bleak time for the Dickens family, with mounting debts that would lead to the imprisonment of Charles's father.

Scrooge's counting house

The frigid offices of Scrooge and Marley are never precisely located. However, the text contains clues that help us track the business down. The biggest hint is given to us by Bob Cratchit. On the long walk home to Camden Town, Cratchit "went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, 20 times, in honour of its being Christmas Eve". The scene is memorably captured in the Muppet version:

If the ice slide is on Cornhill, and Cratchet is heading north-west to Camden, then he must have set off from south or east of the Cornhill area. We're also told that the premises are in a narrow court. Further, we're told about an "ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall". This has led some to speculate that Dickens had in mind the gothic tower of St Michael Cornhill. It certainly looks the part, and presides over a network of courts and alleys much like those described in the story.

St Michael Cornhill. Gruff old bell not pictured.

At the time of the book, however, this would only have been 120 years old... hardly ancient, though perhaps the term had a different shade of meaning back then. Still, there's no better candidate, and the location also befits Scrooge's financial trade. A rather grand Fuller's pub by the name of The Counting House stands nearby on Cornhill — a fine place to ponder the matter further.

Sadly, no clues are given to the location of Scrooge's house, scene of his four visitations (and the worst pun in western literature: "There's more of gravy than of grave about you"). We're only told that it is down a yard and close to a church.

Other locations

Bedlam: the asylum is name-checked by Scrooge, who thinks that those on low income who can rejoice at Christmas are all lunatics. Bedlam at this time was located in St George's Fields, Lambeth. The building is today the Imperial War Museum.

Houses of Parliament: After Scrooge's nephew gives a monologue about the joys of Christmas, the miser notes his powerful speech and wonders that he doesn't go into Parliament.

Mansion House: The home of the Lord Mayor sits not far from the putative location of Scrooge's counting house. That ennobled dignitary, perhaps wearing chains of office like those weighing down Jacob Marley, "gave orders to his 50 cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should".

Royal Exchange: Sitting adjacent to Mansion House, the Exchange was the centre of commerce in Scrooge's time. The location is mentioned during the 'Christmas Yet to Come' scenes, when Scrooge overhears former associates talking ill of a deceased colleague, which [spoilers] turns out to be him.

St Paul's: Dickens, typically, takes great wordy pains at the start of the story to reassure us that Jacob Marley is dead. Dead as a door-nail. We're then referred to Hamlet... there would be nothing remarkable about the old king taking a walk on the ramparts if we didn't already know the man was dead. Similarly, there would be no mystery in any other gentleman turning out in the dark of St Paul's Churchyard to astonish his son's weak mind, if that man was not long buried. By this point, we've lost track of the allusion. For all we love him, Dickens can labour a point.

Whitechapel: When invisibly observing his nephew's parlour games, Scrooge attempts to join in (though no one can hear him). His guesses are good, and the narrator describes him as "the sharpest needle, best Whitechapel". This is a reference to the superior quality of needles manufactured the Whitechapel area. "Whitechapel Needles, 25 for a penny," was once a common street cry.

A rather lovely shot of the Houses of Parliament from the 2009 Disney version. Also a pedant's delight, with St Paul's relocated to Lambeth and an anachronistic Tower Bridge at Vauxhall. The film also features the medieval version of London Bridge.

Other Christmas books

A Christmas Carol was the first of five festive tales from the Dickens pen. The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain all followed at yearly intervals. None of these have any great resonance with London, nor anything like (at least to the modern reader) the power of that first Christmas tale. We'd recommend a read of The Chimes, though, just because Dickens appears to have been drawing too heavily on the Christmas brandy during its composition.

See also

How the Christmas cracker was invented in London.

Photos of St Michael and Bayham Street by M@.

Last Updated 08 December 2015

Chris West

Very good article- I did pay tribute to The Muppets Christmas Carol it in my video for Londonist at the Dickens Museum.

Peter Twist

And well treated by Richard Jones on his Discovery Tours Dickens' Christmas Carol Guided Walk yesterday walk yesterday as we sought to identify many of the actual locations as we wound our way through the deserted alleys and narrow passageways in the City of London.

Mark Rowland

In the opening lines to the book - "Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to...." - the 'Change referred to is also the Royal Exchange.
As far as the location of Scrooge's counting house, he also refers to it being on the edge of a square and the square at the end of George Yard off Lombard street is a good candidate, particularly as it has both the George and Vulture (a favoured haunt of Mr Pickwick) and the Church of St Edmund King and Martyr on Lombard Street (suitably ancient, originating from the 13th Century but rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire) backing onto it. Also fits well with Dickens' description of Bob Cratchit's walk home via the ice slide on Cornhill you refer to (a short walk up St Michael's alley).
I recall reading somewhere that Dickens imagined Scrooge's lodgings as being in an alley off Lime Street (where the Lloyd's Building now is) but can't track down the reference just now.