Dickens and London
     Dickens and Fleet Street

Temple Church
Photograph by Sue Gane 2000

Mr Stryver at Tellson's Bank
by H K Browne (Phiz) from LA Tale of Two Cities  (1859)


The Temple, south of Fleet Street, was built in the 12th century as a monastery for the crusader Knights Templar.   Temple Church (circa 1185, illustrated above) has a round nave, like all Templar churches, imitating the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. It survived the Great Fire of London of 1666 but was damaged by bombs in World War II.  Built at the transition from Norman to Gothic architecture, the circular nave is pure Norman and pure Gothic side by side. It has a Romanesque west doorway with ornate concentric arches and contains 13th century effigies of knights in Purbeck marble.  In contrast the rectangular choir, which was added in 1240.is dignified and restrained, one of the most perfectly and classically proportioned English buildings of the 13th century.  

The Temple has been offices, training and accommodation for lawyers since the 14th century.  In Martin Chuzzlewit, Tom Pinch worked in Pump Court and passed 'from the roar and rattle of the streets into the quiet court-yards of the Temple'. He imagined 'lost documents were decaying in forgotten corners of the shut-up cellars' and ' dark bins of rare old wine, bricked up in vaults among the foundations of the Halls' and 'darker legends of the cross-legged knights, whose marbled effigies were in the church.'

It is well worth exploring the streets, courts and alleys on either side of Fleet Street. Dickens' publishers' offices were in the area and he used it in many of his novels including Barnaby Rudge, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Martin Chuzzlewit, Pickwick Papers, The Tale of Two Cities and Our Mutual Friend. Fleet Street is one of London's ancient roads, linking the merchants of the City of London with King's palace at Westminster, and the area has many interesting old buildings, from the 12th century onwards.

In A Tale of Two Cities Jerry Cruncher was an occasional porter and messenger for Tellson's Bank (illustrated above) which Dickens based on Child's Bank, in Fleet Street opposite Temple Bar. He supplemented his meagre earnings by digging up recently buried bodies in the dead of night, and selling them to doctors to use for dissection. (With the exception of the corpses of executed criminals, doctors were not allowed to use dead bodies to study anatomy.)  Jerry lived with his wife and son in the romantically name Hanging Sword Alley, off Fleet Street. His 'apartments were not in a savoury neighbourhood, and were but two in number, even if a closet with a single pane of glass in it might be counted as one. But they were very decently kept.'