Is This The Most Peaceful Spot In Bloomsbury?

By Laura Reynolds Last edited 13 months ago
Is This The Most Peaceful Spot In Bloomsbury?

It could be any other house on any other street in Bloomsbury, save for the small sign outside telling passers by that 48 Doughty Street is home to the Charles Dickens Museum. It's where the great man himself once lived, but that's not the only reason to visit.

We're here to see what lies behind the house.

Walking into the wooden floored entrance hall, a staircase sits straight ahead but bear round to the left, following the signs to the cafe. It's an extension to the original house but  still manages to look the part, all wooden floorboards, dark wood furniture and floral wallpaper — decorative but not intrusive.

The interior of the cafe feels a bit like a garden too

To the right, the cafe counter displays a tempting selection of cakes; a drinks menu sat atop, almost as an afterthought.

We like cake as much as the next person, but even that's not why we're here today.

While we're standing in the queue — a queue of one other person at 10am on a weekday — we find ourselves stepping aside and peeking out of the double doors in anticipation of the real reason we're here: the cafe's garden.

It's a petite, rectangular space, stretching for about 15ft from the back door, and running parallel with the back of the house about 40ft. The immediate impression is greenery and brickwork — lots of both.

Settling down at one of the decorative green metal tables to await for our order, we're surrounded by a comforting collision of old and new; the original brick wall running at the back of the garden, in the grip of decades of ivy growth, has been extended upwards with more recent structures. The knee high brick walls encasing the borders have a dusting of moss on them.

The original brick wall has been extended upwards, and a canopy hangs at one end.

In fact, the whole garden is enclosed by walls, but the result is not claustrophobic, rather a thrilling feeling of being somewhere secret.

The garden backs on to Brownlow Mews, beyond which is the hustle and bustle of Gray's Inn Road, not that you'd know it. It's hard not to be overwhelmed by the peace and tranquility. There's nothing to hear but the trickle of the fountain and the occasional whirr of the coffee grinder inside. No traffic, no sirens, no car horns — we could be somewhere in the rural home counties.

Exploring the rest of the small garden, it's tempting to tiptoe to avoid breaking the silence. A curtain wall sits down the centre, with just a pathway through the middle, further contributing to the sense of intrigue — what lies beyond?

As it turns out, it's the fountain and a few more tables, bringing the garden's grand total up to eight. They're scattered around the place, enough of them to feel cosy, but not so close together that you find yourself dropping jam onto your neighbour's lap when you tuck into your scone.

The fountain, source of the only sound in the garden.

The fountain may be the auditory centrepiece, but eyes are drawn towards a gravestone in the centre of the back wall, dedicated to Robert Seymour, the first cartoonist to illustrated a Dickens work. His body isn't here though — it's in the graveyard at St Mary Magdalen Church in Islington. The stone was moved from the church's crypt to the museum in 2010.

The gravestone of Robert Seymour makes for an interesting focal point.

The garden is clearly well maintained, with a hosepipe curled up on the paving slabs, water still trickling from the morning's activity. Whoever is responsible for the garden has a definite tendency towards greenery rather than a rainbow of colourful flowers, and that's no bad thing — too many colours would be too noisy in such a confined space. Olfactory senses are catered for with pots of lavender, and we got a whiff of jasmine too.

At one end, a suspended canvas canopy gathers, waiting for its invitation to spread across the overhead wires and cover the garden in its entirety. The house itself shows signs of old and new — creeper plants grow up a modern, wood-clad extension to the house Dickens once inhabited.

The modern extension on the brick house that Dickens once lived in.

As for the food? It's a pretty standard cafe menu, with hot, soft and alcoholic drinks available to wash down the cakes, sandwiches and soups on offer. The hot chocolate will set you back a very reasonable £2.80 — on a par with most chain coffee shops, and you don't get the trickle of a fountain as a backdrop in Pret. Indoor seating is available too, but where's the fun in that?

Downing the dregs of our hot chocolate, we gather our things and wander back through the cafe, through the house and out of the front door, the tranquility of the garden still very much with us. As we set foot on the pavement, a siren screeches past on nearby Gray's Inn Road, and just like that, we're back in London.

The Charles Dickens Museum cafe is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-4.30pm. You don't need to pay a museum admission fee to visit the cafe.

Last Updated 08 July 2016