Warren’s Blacking Factory.


Sketch of Dickens at Warren’s Blacking Factory, published in John Forster’s biography of the author.

When Charles Dickens was just 12, he was sent to work at Warren’s Blacking Factory, a warehouse beside the Thames which made boot polish.

In a letter sent to one of his closest friends, John Forster, Dickens describes his time at the factory and how he used the name of one of his friends there in a later novel.

The blacking warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford Stairs. It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscotted rooms and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again. The countinghouse was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river. There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work. My work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking: first with a piece of oilpaper, and then with a piece of blue paper, to tie them round with a string; and then to clip the paper close and neat all round, until it looked as smart as a pot of ointment from an apothecary’s shop. When a certain number of grosses of pots had attained this pitch of perfection, I was to paste on each a printed label; and then go on again with more pots.

Two or three other boys were kept at similar duty downstairs on similar wages. One of them came up, in a ragged apron and a paper cap, on the first Monday morning, to show me the trick of using the string and tying the knot. His name was Bob Fagin; and I took the liberty of using his name long afterwards, in Oliver Twist.


Feelings of abandonment.

Being sent to work at the factory had a profound effect on Dickens.  He thought his parents had given up on him and his future, particularly as his elder sister had been sent to a prestigious music school, the Royal Academy of Music. He described his feelings vividly in a letter to his friend John Forster:

It is wonderful to me how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age. It is wonderful to me that, even after my descent into the poor little drudge I had been since we came to London, no one had compassion enough on me—a child of singular abilities: quick eager, delicate, and soon hurt, bodily or mentally—to suggest that something might have been spared, as certainly it might have been to place me at any common school. Our friends, I take it, were tired out. No one made any sign. My father and mother were quite satisfied. They could hardly have been more so, if I had been twenty years of age, distinguished at a grammar school, and going to Cambridge.



Warren’s Blacking Factory was situated at Hungerford Stairs. The area has long been redeveloped and is now occupied by Charring Cross Station.

Chandos Street, Covent Garden Warrens moved whilst Dickens worked for them to new premises in Chandos Street, Covent Garden.
Warrens Blacking Factory

Site of Warrens Blacking Factory, Hungerford Stairs (now Charring Cross Station, London).





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