TEXTtile Project: Chapter Three Going Dickensian

Dickensian Dream Team
Dickensian Dream Team

‘It was the best of times, it was’ ….well actually, I think I will just stop there, because in no way was, ‘ it the worst of times.”

It is all very well to meet every week in the same place and make art work for our book project but sometimes an inspirational excursion is required to get the creative juices flowing. Given St. Luke’s Community Centre’s  Islington location, we are a bit spoiled for choice, but as we are making a book we chose a museum and an author with a world renowned reputation,Charles Dickens and The Dickens Museum was an obvious choice.  Let’s face it, Shakespeare is getting more than his fair share of attention this year!

So, we hopped, (ok, clambered), onto the St. Luke’s minibus, with the lovely Gary at the wheel, and were whisked off to 48 Doughty Street, former London residence of one Mr. Charles Dickens and family, and now a wonderfully evocative museum for the public to enjoy. We really did feel as if we were stepping back in time and merely popping in to someones home for a visit, rather than going into a museum.

There are many original items to look at and although we couldn’t touch, we had audio descriptive guides and headphones for all, an extra descriptive guide for our blind makers with raised buttons and plenty of museum staff and volunteers on hand to talk us through the histories of the rooms, their contents and add in interesting little anecdotes, which are the best and most memorable bits of any tour!

Cultural excursion - this way!
Inspiration – this way!

“I can’t see much, but it doesn’t feel or smell like a museum to me. It is welcoming and homely in here. I feel like I have been invited in by the owners.” – J. TEXTtile Maker

There were some unexpected twists to this museum. We particularly like a tactile, pinned map drawing of Europe on the mock William Morris paper upstairs. Great for running your fingers over and allowed you to get up close to the repeat pattern wallpaper. Without a doubt, the kitchen and servants quarters were the favourite part of the museum and the group wasted no time squeezing into the outfits in the dressing up box and having a go with the old fashioned clothes washing tools, with much chatter and giggling. It seemed apt that the servants area was such a pull, as the poor were such a creative source for Dickens.

After 1.5hours walking around, (I was mightily impressed – Active Lifestyle and Wellbeing category ticked here too!),  and in and out of lifts and round tight bends and bedrooms and drawing rooms and past THE writing desk room we were in desperate need of libation. Happily, the museum has a fantastic café with, possibly the most friendly, staff of any museum cafe in London. Nothing was too much trouble and we cozied ourselves into a café alcove and took afternoon tea, as one does in a Victorian house, of an afternoon. But, I am a bit of a slave driver and we have a book to make, so the much admired crockery safely cleared away, we doggedly grafted on, playing Dickens Quote Lucky Dip, as you do! Its just a silly game I made up, and I shouldn’t think that you will see it on the shelves of Hamley’s anytime soon,  but it got us all chatting. The makers were invited to pick card, any card, from the Dickens Quotes Deck and we took it in turn to read them, ( or have them read for us,) out loud to the rest of the group. We then had a chat about what we thought about what Dickens had written.

“The best bit of today has been the social aspect, of sitting in here (café) and enjoying good conversation and talking about what we have seen and learned” – TEXTtile maker.

There was much interest in Dickens philanthropic work, which many of the group had known little about,  and his very positive attitude to helping others and how he incorporates is charitable beliefs into the themes of his stories and their characters. After all this discussion we were able to swap cards, and pick from the rest of the deck, a quote which we thought best suited our beliefs and ethos on life. Take a look, which one suits you best?

All talked, walked, tea’d and philosophised out we thought it apt to seize the moment,  put pen to paper in this historic literary place,  and record our own feelings about the trip to The Dickens Museum and post them back to St. Luke’s Community Centre, for inclusion in our TEXTtile book. We chose, of course, a postcard with a Dickens quote from A Tale of Two Cities, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”, to record what were the highlights and low lights of the trip.

Creative inspiration aside, there is a more fundamental reason to take groups on excursions to places new. It is a fun, safe and invaluable way of boosting an individuals confidence. Being out in public, in unfamiliar surroundings is a courageous act if you have reduced sight, hearing, mobility or a combination of all. Realising that you can do it, with the support of your peers, and enjoy yourself whilst adding to project outcomes allows for a confidence boost. Sometimes just being in a cultural setting, with other like minded people is enough to allow confidence levels to sore.

“I feel much more confident since starting this project.” – J. TEXTtile Maker

Huge thanks to the tour team at The Dickens Museum for accommodating us so professionally and with such attention to detail for all our needs, your efforts ensured that the day was a success and that everyone felt very welcome.

We scored The Dickens Museum trip a maximum of 10/10 and the group collectively described their over all experience as;


I will conclude, at the risk of sounding like one of those quote desk calendars,  with two more wonderful quote from the great man. Firstly, I would like to think this quote a good mind set for staff, vounteers and participants on this project.

“Consider nothing impossible, then treat possibilities as probabilities.” – Charles Dickens

And finally, and hopefully not as a self fulfilling prophecy for the project, I will leave you with this little gem…

“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.” – Charles Dickens.

To be continued…

Author: Alex McEwan

Alex is an artist who specialises in inclusive and accessible community arts projects, such as Sense's TEXTtile and Quilt Tales.

2 thoughts on “TEXTtile Project: Chapter Three Going Dickensian”

  1. “I liked it all. There was no best or worst bit. It was lovely company and the ladies organising the trip was great. thanks very much. xx”
    J. -TEXTtile Maker

  2. “Great day at Dicken’s Museum! Educational and great socially. A treat? Why don’t we do this sort of this more? Museums brilliant resource of getting out and about and sharing experiences around which we can form discussions.”
    Alex – TEXTtile Project Lead

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