Exhibition review: ‘A Great and Dirty City – Dickens and the London Fog’ at Charles Dickens’ museum

What is a London Fog? It is a hot tea drink made with earl grey black tea and vanilla, it is also an established fashion brand symbol of the classic trench coat, but mainly the infamous natural mist surrounding Victorian London’s skies, what was called ‘pea-souper’, a thick smog that could last for days. London’s troubles with smog persisted right through the 1800s — the very term ‘smog’ was coined by an oxygen-starved Londoner in 1905.

The Charles Dickens Museum in London has created a family trail to accompany new exhibition A Great and Dirty City: Dickens and the London Fog – open until 22nd October 2023. The trail is designed to engage younger visitors and inspire them to learn more about the impact of the London fog on Dickens’s writing.

Charles Dickens Museum London fog collage

Activities for children include tongue twisters inspired by Dickens’s descriptions of the fog, drawing and writing opportunities, and a fun Oliver Twist-themed excuse generator. Children can also watch an animation project developed with the local community and schools, exploring the impact of air pollution on their daily lives and the history of air pollution in London as well as its impact on the city and its people.

The family trail is included in the admission price and is a great way to engage younger visitors in the interactive and educational experience.

Charles dickens museum london mums magazine collage

One of the highlights of the family trail is the Oliver Twist-themed excuse generator. Children can generate humorous excuses for why Oliver Twist doesn’t want to do certain things. For example, ‘I can’t clean my room because Fagin said it was his job’. This fun activity encourages children to think creatively and engages them in the themes of Dickens’s writing.

The exhibition itself explores the impact of the London fog on Dickens’s writing, and how it became a metaphor for the corrupt and naughty characters in his novels. The fog is described as being all over London, but especially concentrated in the centre where the lawyers were corrupt and delaying justice. The fog is gone, but the lawyers remain, creating a powerful metaphor for the persistence of corruption in society.

The exhibition also includes a special Easter trail, ‘The Night Soilman Trail’ which follows the men who collected sewage from the Thames, highlighting the grim realities of life in Victorian London. It is a poignant reminder of the challenges faced by those who lived in the city during this time.

On Coronation Day, 6th May 2023, there will be free entry to the museum. This is a fantastic opportunity for visitors to explore the exhibition and learn more about Dickens’s life and work. The permanent objects and furniture belonging to the British writer are alone worth a trip to 48-49 Doughty Street, London, WC1N 2LX.

london fog

Photo by Ollie Craig

The exhibition also ties in with the Parliament Act for Cleaner Air and supports efforts to combat air pollution and its impact on public health. Asthma is a particular concern, and the exhibition includes information on how air pollution can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses.This Victorian themed event is also a reminder of the ongoing challenge of climate change and the impact it has on people’s lives. While London is no longer plagued by the ‘pea soupers’ of Dickens’s time, air pollution remains a serious issue, particularly in urban areas. The trail is a timely reminder of the need to take action to protect the environment and public health.

The museum does not offer specific family tickets. However, the family trail is included in the admission price and is a great way to engage younger visitors during the visit.

 

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