Either too late for last Christmas, or incredibly early for this coming festive season I give you the finest portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge on stage or screen, silver or small.
Unlike the second best version by the Muppets, this one can be watched at any time of the year. Alastair Sim’s portrayal of the odious miser is second to none.
You’re probably wondering why I’m writing this in mid January? Well its 3.02 am and I’ve been awake since 1.30. I decided the best thing to do would be to rifle through my photo collection. I came across a series I’d taken post first lockdown. I’d got into the City very early on a Sunday morning and started wandering around Cornhill, not a soul around, just me and my camera, feeling like the last man on earth.
During lockdown I had re-read A Christmas Carol after many years and found to my surprise that the story is part set around Cornhill, and not as I had assumed, a Dickensian abstract construct of London. If you read the passages regarding Scrooge’s Counting-House and have a rough idea of the topography of 19th century London there are a few clues.
Firstly the location of Cornhill is born out by the passage about Bob Cratchit finally getting away from work on Christmas Eve, “went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas Eve, and then ran home to Camden Town as hard as he could pelt, to play at blindman’s-buff.”
So approximately a 3.6 mile (5.7km) commute for Mr Cratchit to jog home (He probably kept a pair of trainers in the office). So we can surmise that the offices of Scrooge &Marley were somewhere in Cornhill, but where?
The next clue is in the line “The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a gothic window in the wall” So we’re looking for a church in Cornhill. Well there’s two, St Peter upon Cornhill and St Michael Cornhill, so lets assume its one of those. So with the help of Google Maps we can deduce that the Counting-House was on the north side (he wouldn’t have been able to see the tower if he was on the south side) of Cornhill within a stretch of 73 yards (67 metres).
Needle in a haystack time, but no, there is a further clue in “The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms.” Ah! So a court, a narrow alleyway opening out into a wider expanse, situated opposite a church on the north side of Cornhill within a ……… (you get the picture).
Oh, Merdle! There are two such courts. White Lion Court opposite St Peters and Newman’s Court opposite St Michael. So which is it to be?
Tantalisingly there may be a clue in the line “Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker’s-book, went home to bed.”
Now stay with me on this, does Ebenezer look like the sort of chap who would wander far and wide in search of a repast? The answer comes, NO!
Would he be more minded to frequent a hostelry next to or very near the Counting-House? “More than likely”, I hear you cry (and for the purposes of this article, crucial in bringing it to a well deserved close). Haha! I have him.
At one time Newmans Court was home to The Virginia Tavern, at the time of publication of a Christmas Carol in 1843 run by a Mr Thomas Thorne. The other court did not as far as I can ascertain have an Inn or Tavern within its confines. “quod erat demonstrandum“
So Newman’s Court it is then. An unimpressive and bland incarnation greets those who enter. Devoid of any dark Counting-Houses or Taverns, and where has the Gothic window in the wall gone?
But remembering back to that early June morning as I re-traced Bob Cratchit’s final steps before entering the bleak interior of Scrooge & Marley, the slight whiff of stale urine blending with the chill of a London morning. Conjuring up the image of Alastair Sims’ Ebenezer Scrooge, I know I’m in the right place.