I’ve passed by the Charles Dickens Museum on route to other activities on many an occasion but I had assumed it wouldn’t be terribly baby friendly. According to Londonist the museum’s cafe and garden is one of the nicest in the city . I do love a garden cafe so really wanted to check it out. Then I discovered that with my National Art Pass I’d get free entry to the museum so decided to give it a go when next in the area. It turns out that my concerns about the baby friendliness of this museum were actually…. somewhat justified.
What’s it all about?
The Museum is actually one of Dickens’s former homes where he produced some of his most famous works. It has been restored to give an insight into the private world of the Dickens family (Dickens and his wife Catherine raised three of their ten children in this home). You can walk around the house to get a look at Dickens’s writing table and dressing room and see his wife’s engagement ring. There’s also a temporary exhibition space currently occupied by Ghost of an Idea: Unwrapping ‘A Christmas Carol’ which explores the inspiration behind the novel and its continued legacy.
I really wanted to take Pea here in December to see the museum decorated in Victorian Christmas style. Transport disruptions and a double dose of the lurgy prevented that from happening so we made do with an early January visit instead. When we arrived, I was pleased to see the festive wreath still on the door and looked forward to having a look inside.
It was around midday when we got there and Pea was tired from our morning activity but I hoped I could have a casual walk around inside with him in his pram and he’d soon crash out. However, when I ordered my ticket I was informed that I couldn’t take the pram inside the main part of the museum. Time to initiate Plan B – go to cafe, push him back and forth for a few minutes till he dozes off and then consume coffee in the beautiful surroundings.
The key word that failed to register with me from the Londonist description of the cafe was ‘çosy’. That should have been a red flag right there. It is indeed quite small and also very quiet. Cosy, quiet spots don’t have quite the same allure when you’ve got to blunder in with a pram and a tantrum ready toddler. There were no free tables and the garden appeared out of bounds as it the entrance was blocked by a table and chairs. There were some free seats though so I thought I could chance asking to sit next to someone else and hoping Pea remained docile.
With impeccable timing, Pea waited until I had ordered and, crucially, paid for my coffee before launching into a full on ear shattering scream fest. I knew he was just tired and he’d be fine soon enough but in a confined space full of strangers unfamiliar with the range of his keening it was just awkward. People were looking. I got the coffee to go and we left.
A short walk outside eased Pea into an inconveniently long nap. I had lunch elsewhere and we returned for another crack at Charlie’s house just the two hours after getting our ticket. By this time there was really only about an hour to spare before heading home to avoid rush hour.
Carrying Pea around the house was tricky as he’s both heavy and strong-willed. If something catches his eye that he wants to get to it takes strength I just don’t have in abundance to hold him back. It was quiet when we visited so I did release him onto the floor for a few brief bursts to give my back a break and prevent a tantrum but even then he was only ever seconds from head butting a glass cabinet, eating some fake holly or yanking on the extravagant curtains with his drool sodden little paws. The no prams inside the house rule makes perfect sense by the way as it would have been a tight squeeze on an even moderately busy day. It all would have been fine if only we had our baby carrier but we lost it on a trip to Sydney last year and haven’t gotten around to replacing it.
For me, then, this was mildly stressful and tiring. It was difficult to take in very much in between toddler wrangling and I was sad not to get to at least have a walk around the garden. I peeked out the windows to get a glimpse from the house and it looks ever so pretty. Indeed, I may well make another attempt to check out the cafe and garden if I’m in the area in future. I did appreciate fitting in a visit while the house was still all tarted up for Christmas. The kitchen, scullery and washhouse invited a bit more interaction and I actually preferred these over the more formal rooms. Maybe because I wasn’t quite so tense about Pea breadking something expensive. A very brief nod to The Muppet Christmas Carol made me very nostalgic and want to immediately watch it with Pea even though he won’t have a clue what’s going on.
Overall this was not our most successful museum visit but that’s not really down to any issue with the museum itself. Museums with a crawling critter are a hit and miss affair. So it’s not quite baby friendly but it is certainly child friendly. There’s lots on offer to engage slightly older children including dressing up opportunities, a family trail for ages 4-12 and a Victorian toy theatre. It’s well worth a visit during the Christmas period to see the house festooned with holly and red ribbons. If the museum curators ever decide to dedicate a special exhibition to the Muppet Christmas Carol I’ll be back in a heartbeat.
48 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX. Admissions is 9 for adults, under 6’s go free. Donations are encouraged and there’s a discreet donation box just inside the entrance. Open all year round. Closed on Mondays from January through to November. The gift shop, garden and cafe are free to enter.
Small cafe serving hot drinks, simple hot meals and some very tasty looking cakes. High chairs were available. Cloakroom with space to park pushchairs and prams. Accessible toilet and baby change. There is lift access to four out of the five floors but you need to ask a member of staff to operate the lift. On our visit, I couldn’t identify any member of staff inside the main house so it’s probably best to ask about this when purchasing a ticket. The small gift shop sells a decent range of books, cards and toys. We purchased the Cosy Classics edition of Great Expectations which has already been enthusiastically chewed by Pea.