After William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens (7th February 1812 – 9th June 1870), is probably one of England's best remembered Authors. His books dealt with the life and surroundings in which he found himself. In the modern parlance he would be referred to as "the social commentator". Dickens suffered from insomnia and would often take to the streets walking in the early hours of the morning. What is not commonly known is that Dickens had a fascination with police and policing; never losing an opportunity to speak to a Police Officer irrespective of their Rank.
His research was extensive and saw him travel the length and breadth of United Kingdom. He also travelled to the United States. On his various journeys he would often give a evening reading of his latest work to the local population. One of his most favourite places was Liverpool and he would give his reading at the recently opened St Georges Hall (built between 1842 and 1854). In fact the world premiere reading of The Christmas Carol was given at St Georges Hall.
On one such visit he expressed an interest to see the Liverpool police in their working environment. Permission was given for him to be sworn in as a special constable.
It is believed that on his night of duty he was posted to the Campbell Street Bridewell* on patrol around the Salthouse and Albert Dock complexes and the modern day roads and Wapping, Liver Street and Canning Place.
In the Victorian era this area was a cesspool. Where unfortunate families were forced to live in squalor in ill-named housing called "Courts". They were small dark rooms off extremely dark alleyways. It was the Red Light Area and in the streets outside the ladies of the night plied their trade. It was not a good place to be as the ill-prepared or unsuspecting could find themselves fleeced by the unscrupulous publican then beaten/robbed or even Shanghaied. (The unlawful civilian version of Press Gang).
Dickens related the events of that night in a paragraph or two in the Uncommercial Traveller a series of articles he wrote for a journal called All the Year Around in 1859.
I've often wondered if the characters in Oliver Twist were really Scousers.. Who knows The Artful Dodger could haven been one Seamus Core an adopted scouser late of County Mayo.
Shaun R Rothwell - BA (Hons) PgDip Criminology
*In 2003 a plaque was erected in the courtyard of the former Campbell Street
Bridewell re Special Constable Dickens.