In 1815 Charles Dickens and his family made the move from Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, to 10 Norfolk Street in Bloomsbury, London – the city that became an essential source of inspiration for his later writing. This undated photograph depicts Norfolk Street (now Cleveland Street), where Dickens lived as a child from 1815–17 and as a teenager from 1829. The photograph’s caption, referring to the Dickens’s ‘removal from Hawke Street’, hints at the father’s inability to pay the rent at their previous address and his growing debt problem. By the age of 21 Dickens had lived at at least 17 different addresses. 

Like any typical city street, Norfolk Street was a mixture of housing and small businesses. Recently, however, historian Ruth Richardson has discovered something remarkable in connection with Dickens. Just nine doors down from Dickens’s lodgings was a major London workhouse, built in 1775 – arguably the inspiration for the workhouse in Oliver Twist.