On Saturday the 21st July about 18 of us gathered together in bright
sunshine outside Maudsley Hospital for CoolTan Arts Largactyl
Shuffle alternative Dickens walk.
The talks started with a brief introduction to Southwark’s Charles
Dickens connection – how the author spent his early years in Lant
Street and his father imprisonment in Borough’s Marshalsea Prison.
Our first stop was outside the Institute of Psychiatry to learn about
mental healthcare in the 19th Century. All kinds of experimental
treatments were in place then, including the Rotary Chair – a device
which when sat in spun at high speed to supposedly reset the patient’s
equilibrium and brain!
Onwards we went through quiet backtreets to pretty Lucas Gardens where
we learnt about the history of local long closed asylums – Camberwell
House and Peckham house.
The next stop was Chumleigh Gardens where a festival was underway to
celebrate the reopening of Burgess park. Resting for a while on the
grass we first heard about the history of the Friendly Female Society
whose building still remains in the park.
Next up were stories of Dickens hidden love affair with a much
younger woman and how he represented female character in his work. A
poem from CoolTan trustee Sasha Dee, about Dickens Miss Haversham
character got a great reception!
Continuing the walk we headed up to Faraday gardens where we read a
piece of investigative journalism from the late 18th century about an
uncover visit to a ‘Lunatics Ball’ ,which queried who were the sanest
– the asylum inmates or the doctors.
Passing then through the empty spaces of the Heygate estate we
stopped to admire the community allotments which are still flourishing
there and headed down to the busy New Kent Road.
Our final stop took us to Dickens Gardens where we heard about
Dickens experiences of nightwalking through London and his own
struggles with insomnia and mental distress.
This was a highly enjoyable and informative walk and for once, the sun shone!