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Dickens’s London, what’s changed since the 19th century?

Katherine LAitchison20 March 2012

This year marks 200 years since the birth of Charles Dickens. So, in the time since he was writing, how much has London really changed?

This was the topic up for discussion at a panel debate hosted by the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction  on 15 March.

The panel consisted of UCL Quain Professor of English, Rosemary Ashton; UCL Emeritus Professor of Climate Modelling, Julian Hunt and Professor Jerry White (Birkbeck) who has written a number of books describing London through the ages. Each of the panel had their own take on Dickens’s work and how it relates to the changing face of London in the years since his birth.

Professor Ashton kicked off the evening by discussing the London of the 19th century and the relationship between Dickens and Edwin Chadwick (a social reformer who placed huge emphasis on the importance of public health). As far as public health goes, it is clear that London has changed substantially since Dickens was writing; although the poverty he was so concerned about is still visible in some areas, the days of multiple families crowding into one room are long gone.

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John Bull vs. Stinkomalee: the early days of UCL

RuthHowells20 February 2012

In 1825, a group of men that included Whigs, reformers and lawyers came together to found a university in London aimed at those excluded from the two established English universities Oxford and Cambridge – where teachers and students were required to be subscribing Anglicans.

To mark the anniversary of UCL’s foundation on 11 Feb 1826 – when it went by its original name the University of London – this lunch hour lecture by Professor Rosemary Ashton (UCL English Language & Literature) looked at the opposition to the new university among Tory politicians and journalists, especially in the ultra-Tory newspaper John Bull.

The new university was designed to have “all the leading advantages of the two great universities” and “no barrier to the education of any sect”. The intention was to exclude theological teaching from the curriculum and have no form of religious test for entrance.

The media ‘against’

John Bull took against the idea with vitriol and had a longstanding campaign to ridicule those behind it. Sweeping, exaggerated warnings of threat to church and state were driven by a fear of working-class revolution in the vein of the French model.

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