It has been my privilege to have many wonderful guests on my walks who have said many kind things about them.

However, last week it was a particular privilege (and no small pressure!) to welcome the hugely talented East End born and bred artist Mary Swan onto my Dickens After Dark walk seeking inspiration for more of her wonderful “evocative oils and scrawls of old London” (I recommend you check her website and follow her on Twitter, her work is quite brilliant).

I am delighted that Mary kindly agreed to write a guest blog post detailing her experience, so enough from me and over to Mary! (all that follows is © Mary Swan, 2013).


“The scene could not have been better considered had Charles Dickens himself been requested to prepare it.  It was a cold November evening when our party met within the sound of Bow Bells for Mark Rowland’s Dickens Night Walk within the City of London.

As a visual artist, there was imagery aplenty ahead, of that I was sure.

London has that certain something at night which the stark daylight and bustle of city workers can bleach away.  But, once the 5pm mass exodus is through, the colours and character returns.  There can be no better time to witness this transformation than when darkness falls.

So we were away.  Guiding us, with a metaphorical lamp aflame with knowledge and a passion for Dickens and his London, Mark brought the backstreets and establishments of the great beating heart of this beautiful metropolis to life.

Of the many landmarks Mark revealed to his party that evening, there are two in particular that piqued my creative interest.  The first was our stop at Simpsons, Ball Court.

Simpsons, Ball Court © Mary Swan 2013
Simpsons, Ball Court © Mary Swan 2013

I confess to having walked this way many times and inadvertently bypassing this historical gem.  But this came as no surprise when I discovered entry to the courtyard of Ball Court is via a narrow, almost invisible passage off of Cornhill.

There we stood, way back in time, half expecting the great man himself to emerge from an adjoining alley.  His imprint was palpably there just as surely as a current day graffiti artist would have left theirs, albeit in a very different manner!

My imagination ran riot; clanking tankards, boisterous banter, the pungent aromas of ales and sizzling meats enjoyed over the centuries, assaulting the senses.  All the while, Mark deftly dropped pearls of facts and dates into the experience, ensuring our optimum engagement.

There were so many more instances of discovery and wonder along the route, but the final gem had to be Dickens association with the River Thames.  The sheer force and speed of the flow and slapping of waves against the bankside had a sobering effect on the psyche after the relative security of the street, so we all took a moment to take in the bracing scene.

The fascination with this river for artists, writers and musicians is legendary and understandable when standing alongside it at night in all its powerful oily-black glory.  The effect upon the psyche can be commanding, disturbing and inspirational all at once.

It is here near the evening’s end that Mark appropriately quotes from Dickens Night Walks essay as follows:

“…but the river had an awful look, the buildings on the banks were muffled in black shrouds, and the reflected lights seemed to originate deep in the water, as if the spectres of suicides were holding them to show where they went down.  The wild moon and clouds were as restless as an evil conscience in a tumbled bed, and the very shadow of the immensity of London seemed to lie oppressively upon the river.”

This clearly is a city Dickens was in tune with, as it in turn was with him.

And so it was, with a mind full of images and a greater knowledge and understanding of Dickens and his London, that I hailed a carriage (a Hackney one that is!) to whisk me home to prepare my canvas and brushes for the morning.  For now it was going to be a very busy and inspired week ahead.”