My volunteering experience at the Charles Dickens Museum
By Carys Jones, Volunteer at the Charles Dickens Museum
When I moved to London in August 2015, I began to feel the need to get culturally involved in this historic city. I have always been captivated by literature and at university I developed a strong passion for nineteenth century novels, by authors such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy and of course, Charles Dickens. I decided to research ways that I could use my interest to get involved in London’s literary world and was delighted to discover the Charles Dickens Museum and the volunteering opportunities it offers. I immediately contacted the museum and in October 2015 I became a Volunteer Room Steward.
Carys Jones, Room Steward
This role involves spending four hours per week at the museum, chatting to visitors about Charles Dickens’s life, his works of literature, the architecture of the museum and Victorian London, particularly the areas Dickens refers to in his novels. This obviously requires maintaining a high level of knowledge about these subjects; however for me and my fellow volunteers, this is most definitely an enjoyable hobby, not a chore. It also entails monitoring the collection of Dickens related artefacts and the rooms of the museum, to ensure that they are protected at all times; preserving them so that hosts of visitors can enjoy them for many years to come.
The museum is a very relaxing and peaceful place, which is steeped in history, culture and education. As soon as I step through the threshold, all the stresses of everyday life escape me and I am transported back to 1837, observing Charles Dickens at 48 Doughty Street, with his young family and adoring servants. The beauty of the museum is that you can really imagine Dickens living there, walking down the stairs, collecting his bag and heading out to roam the streets of London, creating stories in his wonderful imagination as he goes. You also get an insight into the lives of wealthy Victorian women and children, as you can vividly decipher images of Catherine Dickens practicing embroidery in the Morning Room, whilst young Charley, Mary and Katie are looked after by their nurse upstairs in the nursery.
Charles Dickens Museum
The collection of Dickens memorabilia that is held within the museum is truly astounding. Many of the pieces are original furnishings from Gad’s Hill Place in Kent, the only home which Dickens owned and the house in which he died. Items range from his writing desk, which the world’s most popular novel, A Tale of Two Cities, was written on, to Catherine Dickens’s engagement ring. It also includes a grille from the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison, where Dickens’s father John was confined, due to his poor money management. Further, there is a great collection of artwork, the most notable being the original painting ‘Dickens’ Dream’ by Robert W. Buss. This piece can be found in the museum’s study and shows the author surrounded by the many characters he created. Buss died before he completed the painting, however the unfinished nature of the piece actually adds to the interest and beauty. Replicas of this painting can be purchased in the quaint museum shop, which sells a wide variety of Dickens related ornaments, books and gifts.
Marshalsea Prison Grille and Dickens's Desk
Volunteering at the Charles Dickens Museum not only allows me to build my knowledge of this great author and work in an amazing Georgian house, it has also given me the opportunity to make likeminded friends in my fellow volunteers. We are an eccentric, but lovely bunch of people of all ages, from different walks of life and parts of London and the surrounding areas. Everyone is very welcoming and we all learn from each other every week. I also love meeting all of the different people who visit the museum. We have guests from all over the world, who have in some way been inspired by Dickens’s literature and want to learn more about his life. Talking about Dickens and Victorian London with these people is an absolute treat and providing them with interesting new knowledge is a very rewarding feeling.
I would truly recommend volunteering to everyone. No matter what you are interested in, giving back to the community by using your spare time in a constructive and fun way will always make you feel good and enhance your life, as well as the lives of others.