A Gracious Invitation by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 ¼ x 4 ⅝ inches (8.1 cm by 11.6 cm). — Chapter 48, The Old Curiosity Shop. Date of original serial publication of Part 27: 31 October 1840 in Master Humphrey's Clock, Headpiece for Part 30, Vol. 2: 61.

Context of the Illustration: The Single Gentleman encounters Quilp at the inn

"Any room will do," said the single gentleman. "Let it be near at hand, that’s all."

"Close here, sir, if you please to walk this way."

"Would the gentleman like this room?" said a voice, as a little out-of-the-way door at the foot of the well staircase flew briskly open and a head popped out. "He’s quite welcome to it. He’s as welcome as flowers in May, or coals at Christmas. Would you like this room, sir? Honour me by walking in. Do me the favour, pray."

"Goodness gracious me!" cried Kit’s mother, falling back in extreme surprise, "only think of this!"

She had some reason to be astonished, for the person who proffered the gracious invitation was no other than Daniel Quilp. The little door out of which he had thrust his head was close to the inn larder; and there he stood, bowing with grotesque politeness; as much at his ease as if the door were that of his own house; blighting all the legs of mutton and cold roast fowls by his close companionship, and looking like the evil genius of the cellars come from underground upon some work of mischief.

"Would you do me the honour?" said Quilp. [Vol. 2, Chapter XLVIII, 61-62]

The Single Gentleman's Destination: An Unnamed West of England Market-town

Dickens provides a generalized account of the coach journey from the offices of Mr. Witherden in London to the door of the inn in the west of England market-town where he has derived intelligence of Nell and her grandfather. Although they make haste and travel all night to catch up with the wayfarers, the Single Gentleman and Mrs. Nubbles arrive too late, for Nell has already whisked her grandfather away from the gamblers by taking a canal boat northward. Although Dickens never mentions by name the medieval market-town which is the Single Gentleman’sdestination, it may well have been Daventry, some seventy-two miles and twelvehours’ ride from the metropolis. Dickens’s coach travellers do not make anyone of the six regular stops of "The Daventry Accommodation Coach," departing from The Three Cups, Aldersgate (namely, Barnet, St. Albans, Dunstable, Fenny Stratford, Stony Stratford, and Towcester), about mid-way through the twelve-hour trip they make an extensive dinner-stop, arriving at their destination after sunrise the next morning. This midnight repast probably occurs at Berkhamstead, west of St. Albans, which lies approximately half-way on the 76.65-mile (123.35 km) route. In confronting Quilp in Chapter 48, the Single Gentleman specifies the distance between the Little Bethel or dissenting chapel where Mrs. Nubbles saw Quilp the previous afternoon and their present location as being "sixty miles" (63). Since that is precisely the distance between Northampton and London, Dickens may be conflating the two market towns. Dickens needs a location that connects directly to the canal system, and he probably would have known that Northampton had a such connection from 1815 to Birmingham via the Grand Union Canal through the River Neme, giving the town a direct link to the Midlands coalfields and Birmingham, Manchester, and London. Since the Northampton and Peterborough Railway (1845) did not reach Northampton until after the publication of The Old Curiosity Shop, even readers with some knowledge of the region's roads would have been surprised at the arrival of Quilp, who probably would have travelled by a regular coach such as the London–Leeds, "Express" (which departed from The Bull & Mouth, St. Martins-le-Grand, daily at 4:30 P. M.).

Dickens's original readers, then, would have reacted with as much surprise as Mrs. Nubbles when Quilp suddenly pops his enormous head out of the inn's tiny larder door. Ever since the Single Gentleman called at the curiosity shop, looking for the Trents, . . . .

Worth's Illustration of the Arrival of the Single Gentleman (1876)

In Thomas Worth's Household Edition illustration, the Single Gentleman confronts Mrs. Jarley's new husband rather than Quilp in "Now, sir, what do you want?"

Related Resources Including Other Illustrated Editions

Scanned images and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Bates, Allan. “Stage Coach Routes in 1836." Directory of Stage Coach Services, 1836. Web. 2 November 2020.

Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock. Illustrated by Phiz, George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1840.

Last modified 27 October 2020