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Dickens - London Tour

Marshalsea Debtors' Prison Then: The Marshalsea
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Commonly referred to as The Marshalsea, this is where Dickens' father, John, was imprisoned for three months in 1824 for failing to repay his debts. His wife, Elizabeth, and their youngest children eventually moved into the prison with him, while Charles lived alone in lodgings on nearby Lant Street. The Marshalsea of Dickens' youth was located on Borough High Street in the Southwark section of London, and has been described as a village behind bars; whole families resided there and visitors were permitted daily until the gates were shut at 10pm. Dickens went to The Marshalsea each morning to see his family, who survived on the salary his father continued to receive from his job as a Naval clerk. John Dickens was released from the prison when he came into a small inheritance that helped pay off his debts. Much of LITTLE DORRIT takes place in and around The Marshalsea, and the novel is a testament to the lasting impact it had on Dickens and the depth of his despair at this time in his life.

Now: The Marshalsea The remains of the once-imposing prison now lie crumbling in a public park that was created around the original site. A portion of The Marshalsea's high wall that includes its entrance gate is still standing, just north of the church of St. George the Martyr, and can be indentified by a small commemorative plaque that was added by the local government.

St. George's has come to be known as "Little Dorrit's Church," because it was where the novel's young heroine was baptized and later married. Today, her likeness is represented in a corner of the stained-glass window found on the east side of the church. The Marshalsea was already closed by the time Dickens began writing LITTLE DORRIT in 1855, and all but this last wall, which is adjacent to a pathway that leads to the Southwark Studies Library, was demolished sometime afterward.

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