Little known job novelist Charles Dickens took in Liverpool

Charles Dickens’ love for Liverpool has been well documented.

He often turned to the city for inspiration in his writings and would hold readings in St George’s Hall. The premiere reading of A Christmas Carol even took place there.

Considered as a social commentator of his day, he would travel extensively to research his work.

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That research lead to him being sworn in as a special constable for the Liverpool Borough Police in 1860.

For one night only, Dickens joined the force to fight crime in Victorian Liverpool.

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Dickens arranged with the chief constable at the time, Capt. Major John James Grieg, to take on the night patrol in the norther division.

Crime historian Angela Buckley spoke of Dickens’ evening with the city police on her blog ‘Victorian Supersluth’.

She said: “Dickens’ first tasks as a constable were to take a photo of a suspected thief at the police headquarters, and to attend the daily police parade.

“At 10pm, he took up a lantern and accompanied Superintendent Benjamin Ride on his nightly tour.

“The pair began by exploring sailors’ haunts, in ‘the obscurest streets and lanes of the port’, which were particularly treacherous after dark.”

She went on and said: “The group checked several ‘miserable places’ along their patrol, including the lodgings of [sex workers] and ‘crimps’ (a person who entraps men into shipping), and even a yard where a man was murdered.

“They saw women huddled over meagre fires, with their ragged clothes drying by the thin flames. Skinny children were asleep in dust heaps, apparently unaware of the stench and poverty around them.

“Dickens would remember this ‘strange world, where nobody ever goes to bed,’ in his dreams.”

Dickens wrote about his experience of working the night watch in the city on the ‘All Year Round’ which was serialised in newspapers across the country and was published in the Liverpool Daily post in March 1860.

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