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Classic London Art Print – The Old Curiosity Shop


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For someone from the states, this piece of classic London architecture seems impossibly old and by proxy of great importance. And yet this little shop on Portsmouth Street is primarily considered of interest only because of its literary connection to Charles Dickens. Dickens is of course the great English author of the 19th century.

Predictably, I first laid eyes on The Old Curiosity Shop years ago on a classic London walking tour. I don’t remember what was said about the landmark, but I’ll never forget how it as dwarfed by the larger, newer, brick buildings that surrounded it. It felt like a little island of classic London marooned in the midst of a sea of the modern. That made as much of an impression on me as the possible connection to Charles Dickens.

You only realize where this little shop really rates in the pantheon of ancient architecture in Britain when you start trying to discover something as simple as what architectural style it represents. My first guess was that the simple timber framed building was probably medieval in style even though it was built somewhat after that period of history. Of course, with epochs, there are typically no concrete dividing lines. And for something as simple as this little shop, it was probably not afforded cutting edge architecture. So, I’m sticking with my assumption it falls in line with the medieval period in style unless someone can offer a stronger argument.

In fact, this classic London landmark did start out life rather humbly. It was built circa 1567 from re-used timbers of old sailing ships and. It functioned as a dairy and was a gift from King Charles II to one of his mistresses. The story may be interesting but at the end of the day, it was never a palace. And the people who saw it newly built in the 16th century probably never envisioned this little building would still be standing in the 21st century, did they?

There’s some question whether or not Charles Dickens really envisioned this particular shop as the antique shop central in his novel, The Old Curiosity Shop. Soon after the novel was published, however, the owner of the shop proclaimed it was in fact the Old Curiosity Shop and it has been regarded as such for well over a century now. Whether true or not, it is one of the buildings that stood in Dickens’ time. In fact, this little shop has stood through the Great Fire of London in 1666, the blitz of World War II, and through the contemporary redevelopment of Westminster and Holborn. I think that certainly rates it now as a landmark piece of Classic London if nothing else does!

When I was working on this particular classic London artwork, I wanted an element that conveyed some sense of the passing years, not just the contrast of the old and new architecture but something else central to the identity of London. And for me, that character is the weather itself. I have always regarded the rain as a part of London. Granted usually my day to investigate galleries and museums, but when I think of walking in the rain in London, it’s like I’m there again. And how many, many times must the rain have fallen on the Old Curiosity Shop in the centuries that this piece of classic London has stood?

Does this remind you of a classic day spent in London? Or maybe it speaks to the side of you that loves Dickens and classic English literature? I would love for you to take a moment to share what speaks to you most in this London art print?


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