Dickens’ Voices

Creating a new sound that will bring to life Dickensian Southwark.  Dickens’ Voices was a collaboration between London Bubble, the Cuming Museum and the people of Southwark, to involve Southwark residents in creating a sound ‘app’ that will bring to life Dickensian Southwark.

About the Project

Creating a new sound that will bring to life Dickensian Southwark.  Dickens’ Voices was a collaboration between London Bubble, the Cuming Museum and the people of Southwark, to involve Southwark residents in creating a sound ‘app’ that will bring to life Dickensian Southwark.

Working with radio drama practitioners, participants imagined the streets of Dickens’ childhood: the slop of the workhouse gruel, the carousing of gin addled boot blackers, the giggles of mad hatters, the tears of hungry orphans; to devise and perform audio vignettes to be loaded into the app, and available for all to use.

Although Dickens was only in Southwark for a few months, it was to act as the imaginative crucible for much of his work. In 1824 Dickens’ father was imprisoned for debt at the Marshalsea Prison in Southwark. Charles, aged 12, was forced to leave school and start work in a blacking warehouse to support his family. The direct experience of poverty and the brutality of day to day life in and around Marshalsea prison was to conjure the characters of Liitle Dorrit and Oliver Twist, as well as ignite his passion for social reform. In later life he recalled, “My whole nature was so penetrated with the grief and humiliation…that even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife”.

Workshops took place in May and June then a writing period meeting again in July to rehearse and record.

Audio Vignettes

Over the past three months, in collaboration with the Cuming Museum, we have been the running the Dickens’ Voices project.

The Dickensians, as the participants group became known, through historical research and a series of workshops, imaginatively investigated Victorian life in Southwark and have created their own Dickens style characters.  Writer Simon Startin then brought them to life in a series of scenes and monologues, which the Dickensians recorded.  The results have vibrantly brought history to life and we are very proud of the results.

Ada Fips – created and performed by Iris Dove. Washerwoman. Age 39. Lived in the area of Borough all her life. Husband died of cholera. Has four children, two of which have grown up. A god fearing woman with a sarcastic turn of phrase.

Clara Verisopht – created and performed by Ravina Singh. Age 25. Whilst working in the stables of a grand estate, she claimed to have become pregnant by the son of the wealthy family who employed her. To avoid scandal they have bought her silence by providing lodging and maintenance for herself and the child. Clara is weaving her life with tangled threads of deceit.

Dot Toots – created and performed by Jane Tilton. Landlady of the White Hart inn, just offBorough High Street. Currently engaged in a determined search for her fourth husband. Best not to enquire what happened to the previous holders of the post. Her penchant for sailors has left her with a few of the more common diseases. Rumours abound that she may be a spy for the French.

Emily Carstone – created and performed by Kemi Lofinmakin. Age 19. A young middle class woman born out of step with her times. Longs to escape the life mapped out for her by her father’s expectations.

Fanny Finnegan
 – created and performed by Vanessa Dowling. Costermonger selling fruit in the streets, green fruit in summer, then nuts and oranges, and salad in spring. Times are hard at the moment. All she owns is her rosary and a thick plaid shawl that belonged to her mother.  Her hair is black and smoothed with grease.

Harriet Spoteto – created by Kavita Cupas, performed by Kandace Caine. Mudlark and Basket maker. 23 years old. Lives with her grandmother, indeed she was raised by her.  Has a difficult relationship with her.  Often left on her own as a child.  Describes herself as a “wildchild”. Was dumped into a vat of water by a boy who was meant to be looking after her, and has created in her a fear of water on her face. When she washes, she prefers
it to be dark.

Hattie Squod
 – created and performed by Michelle Baker. Servant girl in Mrs Toodles boarding house. Works long hours for no pay, just board and
lodging. However, she earns a few coins by secretly laundering hankies for Polly Mowcher without Mrs Toodle’s knowledge.

Henrietta Tackleton – created and performed by Judy Pompermaier. Hairdresser and wigmaker for Ede & Ravenscroft Ltd. Henrietta’s kind and
romantic heart has led her into the unkind hands of uncaring men, leaving her abandoned by her reputation and family.

Himony Wackles 
– created by Fiona Pompermaier, performed by Fiona Pompermaier and Brenda Watkin. Scrounger of fabrics from the street. Takes refuge in alcohol and The Monument Pub now her lover has been imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea. She dreams of creating an enlightened collection of corsages, corsets and hats.

Johanna Van der Velden – created by Marieke De Veer, performed by Marieke De Veer and Brenda Watkin. A native of Antwerpen, she came to London with her husband, who abandoned her in favour of the Borough’s ale houses and brothels. She found a few days comfort in the arms of a
young and handsome stranger who she met whilst searching for her husband.  Unfortunately, she became pregnant and abandoned by him in quick succession, and now seeks refuge in the cold hospitality of the workhouse and icy glare of the Matron.

Mary Meagles 
– created and performed by Kandace Caine.  Age 15 years old.  Mother has died and her older sister Nancy gone off in search of wealth and marriage. Works in a clothes Factory run by Mr Den, and dreams of owning her own shop.

Ninetta Lenville 
– created and performed by Judith Arkwright.  Age 54 years old and no teeth. Once a starlet of the Astley’s amphitheatre, now a street entertainer earning a meagre crust running a Punch and Judy Show. Had a brief tryst with Edward Forsythe at Brighton Pavillion, only to be sadly disappointed when she learned of his marital status.

Solomon Biddy – created and performed by Ian MacNaughton. Age 54. Night Soil Man. Less healthy than he
was, a good income is being squeezed and his relationship with poorer clients are becoming bitter and abrasive due to high prices and the increasing number of alternative solutions to the problem of Night Soil. He is finding it increasingly hard to make the journeys in and out collecting and disposing of night soil.

Davey Traddles – created and performed by Simon Cole. Age 25, he now works as a foreman at the East India docks, in charge of the loading and
unloading of boats. But he came from the North East on a collier and as such fancies himself as a bit of a Captain Cook, who he looks up to as a relatively humble northerner made good in the establishment. He has a few secrets and is involved in some sort of scam at the docks, as are many. He has been influenced by the Chartists and regards his scams as wealth redistribution. He sees the wealth disparities and knows it’s not right. He sees the increasing use of dock ‘casuals’ and worries that job security is going to become even weaker.

Prison Warder
 – created and performed by Ken Woolhouse.  Age 56.   Warder at Marshalsea Prison for debtors and has been there since he was discharged from the local infantry regiment that he was press-ganged into as a 15 year old. Married and six out of eight of children are surviving – four girls and two boys in 10 years. Paid by the inmates, enough to get bread on the table for the family, but he wheedles extra food or cash out of some of the inmates in return for running errands.  His only joy in life is his a night-cap noggin down at the ale-house.

Polly Mowcher – created and performed by Maureen Tyson. Street purveyor of dubious haberdashery.  Boarder at Mrs Toodles Boarding House.  Has a side line of recruiting young women into the prostitution business.  Currently has her eye on Hattie Squod.

Annie Pell – created and performed by Madeleine Kekwick – proprietor/madam of Madame Pell’s house of Pleasure. A witness to a murder that no one believes.

House of Cholera
 – created by Simon Startin, performed by Simon Startin. Simon Cole, Iris Dove and Maureen Tyson. A deathbed scene of mixed motivations.