A guest post by LH Member Jane Young.
Dickens and the Workhouse by Ruth Richardson.
This was first published to coincide with the Dickens bicentenary in 2012 and has now just been released in paperback format. Despite being written to a very tight deadline it pulls off that rare combination of a perfectly and thoroughly executed piece of academic research whilst remaining not only immensely readable but positively compelling.
At the heart of the story, which is a true story but nonetheless contains some genuine fairytale moments, is the campaign to save the Cleveland Street Workhouse. The resulting research grew from an entirely altruistic response to a request for help in preventing demolition of an old hospital building. The discovery this led to was the impetus for Dickens & the Workhouse
Not just for admirers of Charles Dickens, anyone who understands the lure of an archive or has even the merest shred of interest in historical research will find this difficult to put down. The narrative assembles a jigsaw puzzle as it unfolds a detective story bound up in a flawless piece of history writing.
Very much a part of why this is so captivating is the real enthusiasm with which the research was undertaken. This is present on every page and comes through in the narrative, leading you on a journey which begins with a paper written in 1989 and does not really end on the last page but culminates in a new fixture on a wall in Fitzrovia for all of London to see.
If there is any criticism at all, it is that modesty does not allow an explanation of the tireless effort and determination on the part of Dr. Richardson to obtain the essential piece of documented evidence needed to stop the planner’s bulldozers, which in a race against time was extraordinarily unearthed at the eleventh hour. Such time as Dickens & the Workhouse is reprinted in the future; it would be right and fitting with the inclusion of a foreword in acknowledgment of this. Notwithstanding that, this book is wonderful, buy it or borrow it, but do read it.