Dickens project more than meets expectations
The Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury, central London has recently been transformed in a £3m lottery-funded project, writes Stephen Cousins. The five-storey terraced house at 48 Doughty Street, WC1, served as Dickens’ family home from March 1837 to December 1839 and was where he wrote two of his most famous works, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.
The “Great Expectations” restoration and refurbishment project was carried out to mark the novelist and social commentator’s 2012 bicentenary. Main contractor Mansell coordinated complex internal and external structural repairs, strengthening and access improvements on the Grade I listed property and the neighbouring Grade II listed five-storey property to help the museum cope with rising visitor numbers.
A new extension was constructed at 49 Doughty Street and a DDA compliant lift installed to the rear of the building, which required extensive structural alterations to form new doorways on each floor.
A steel frame clad in larch was erected on the back of the property to create the lift shaft, which had to be bespoke designed to step around some of the building’s existing features.
To get the lift shaft and drainage works into the basement level at number 49, Mansell had to break through the original brick-vaulted basement roof via the property’s back garden. “Creating the void required complicated propping to support the brick vault, and access was very tight with just a 6m sq back garden to work in,” says Jon Riley, senior contracts manager at Mansell.
Externally, the roofs were stripped from both buildings and replaced, with much of the existing slate reused where possible. Other works included repointing, redecoration, window overhaul and repairs, metal works and rainwater goods. Even a bush had to be removed that had grown into the brick walls of number 48.
Internal refurbishment works included joinery repairs, repairs to lime plaster
walls and top floor lathe and plaster ceilings that had collapsed due to water ingress. Hidden beneath panelling in the basement of number 48 the team uncovered a complete cast iron range, which was possibly used by Dickens’ servants.
M&E systems were overhauled to include a state-of-the-art lighting scheme for exhibits including electric “candles” to give an authentic feel, and electronic blinds that limit the effects of ultraviolet light on exhibits.