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Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in 'The Kid'|Wikicommons
Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in 'The Kid'|Wikicommons
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Charlie Chaplin Was Here: The Little Tramp's London In 6 Spots

Picture of Harriet Clugston
Updated: 3 October 2016
Charlie Chaplin‘s life has been described as the ‘most dramatic of all the rags to riches stories ever told’. Born and raised in and around Kennington and Walworth in the Southwark district of South London, Chaplin’s early life was one of extreme poverty and instability — his father was a distant alcoholic, and his mother was committed to an asylum, leaving him and his brother veritable orphans. Though he would move to the U.S. as a young man to make his fame and fortune, London would always stay with him, shaping his future work. The area may be a far cry now from the impoverished but colourful one he would have known, but several spots still remain that provide a link to the comedian’s early life.

East Street, Walworth

Nobody, not even Chaplin himself it seems, knows exactly where he was born — MI5 files released a few years ago show that there was no record of his birth. It was not unusual in the era for births among the impoverished classes to go unrecorded, especially amongst theatre performers who would move around frequently. However, Chaplin would later state a belief that he was born in a house in East Lane which, according to historians, is what East Street locals refer to it as. In any case, there is a blue plaque dedicated to Chaplin at the corner of East Street and Walworth Road. One of London’s oldest markets, East Street Market, still stands on the same site as during Chaplin’s Walworth days, but is a bit more geared towards African and Caribbean produce nowadays.

East Street Market, with a blue plaque dedicated to Charlie Chaplin|© Danny P Robinson/Geograph
East Street Market, with a blue plaque dedicated to Charlie Chaplin | © Danny P Robinson/Geograph

St John’s Church, Walworth

Just seconds from East Street, tucked away in the back streets of Walworth, is this very run-of-the-mill Church of England church. It’s actually the place where Chaplin’s parents, Hannah and Charles, were married in 1885. The pair had met while touring England’s music halls with a company of performers, but three years later Hannah ran away to South Africa with a man who promised to marry her when they arrived. A short time later, an abandoned Hannah turned up back in England, pregnant with her ex-lover’s child. Charles would take her in, supporting her throughout her pregnancy and raising the child — Sidney Chaplin — as his own. They married three months after his birth, and Charlie was born thereafter in 1889.

St John's Church, Walworth|© Stephen Craven/Geograph
St John’s Church, Walworth | © Stephen Craven/Geograph

The Three Stags Pub, Kennington

Inside this historical local pub near the Imperial War Museum you’ll find an enclosed section with frosted glass, designated as ‘Charlie Chaplin Corner’. This is actually said to have been the favoured corner of Charles Chaplin Senior, Charlie’s father, coming in all time time, with the pub holding bittersweet memories for Chaplin Jr. Chaplin Sr. was a chronic alcoholic, and much of Chaplin Jr.’s early memories involved playing or waiting outside the local pubs that his father would frequent. Aged ten, Chaplin Jr. wandered past The Three Stags and put his head around the door and found his father sat in this corner. Chaplin Jr. would later recall that his father looked extremely ill, but unusually happy to see him, and would take in his arms and kiss him for the first time when he left. It was the last time he saw his father before he died of liver cirrhosis, aged 38.

The Queen’s Head, Vauxhall

Today, the Queen’s Head is a café and tearoom, but back in the day it was a pub frequented by Chaplin and run by his Uncle Spencer. A man named Rummy Binks took care of the horses at the pub, and he was noted for a peculiar, shuffling walk. Chaplin would late recall that he had ‘a bulbous nose, a crippled up rheumatic body, a swollen and distorted pair of feet and the most extraordinary pair of trousers I ever saw. He must have got the trousers from a giant and he was a little man. When I saw Rummy shuffle his way across the pavement to hold a cabman’s horse for a penny, I was fascinated.’ Chaplin would later mimic aspects of Rummy, including his ill-fitting trousers and gait, for one of his most famous characters: The Tramp.

Breakfast in London 🇬🇧

A photo posted by maxbonacina (@maxbonacina) on

The Cinema Museum, Kennington

As you might expect from any institution whose purpose is to celebrate the history of film, The Cinema Museum is home to many Charlie Chaplin artefacts and tributes. But this small museum’s connection to Charlie goes deeper than that — it is housed in the former Lambeth Workhouse, to which Chaplin was sent as a young child after his mother was institutionalised. Sadly, it was far from the only poorhouse that he attended, having lived in several, both with his bother and alone, following the advent of her psychosis.

Image courtesy of The Cinema Musuem
Image courtesy of The Cinema Musuem

The Coronet Theatre, Elephant and Castle

Now a popular, iconic live music venue and nightclub (although it’s facing closure in the near future), the historic Coronet Theatre has been operating in various forms on this site since 1872, and still retains much of its original interior features. Originally the home of the Theatre Royal, the venue then became the Elephant and Castle Theatre in 1879, a popular spot for vaudeville and music hall. It is on this stage that a young Chaplin would make some of his early appearances, just a few minutes from his home.