VICTORIAN novelist Charles Dickens may have based a couple of his most famous characters on a pair of Worcester’s shadiest figures, a best-selling author and former city journalist has claimed.

Charismatic child pickpocket Jack Dawkins, nicknamed ‘The Artful Dodger’, from the 1839 novel Oliver Twist could well have been based on 10-year-old alleged thief and gang leader Michael Condlie, believes Bob Blandford.

While Fagin, from the same book, bears a striking resemblance to a city cigar shop owner known as ‘Argus’ who is believed to have “harboured and encouraged” child criminals from his King Street business.

Mr Blandford, previously of the Berrow’s Worcester Journal and whose books include The Spike: Worcester City Police and Bob Backenforth’s Worcester Pubs: Then and Now, said: “It defies coincidence in many ways. Maybe I’m putting two and two together and getting five, but the evidence is there, it stacks up.

“Dickens was a roving political journalist at the time, who would have visited Worcester and more than likely took an interest in what was happening in court here.”

According to a 1837 news report, city police chief James Douglas described Condlie, said to have sown secret pockets inside his trousers to hide his pickpocketed loot, as the “most artful young rogue that has ever been brought before the bench”.

In 1838, four juveniles were arrested and later convicted of thefts from the Foundry Arms and Johnsons Bakery in Sidbury.

Mr Douglas said the notorious Argus, also known as Hargist, had been linked with the boys and implied his establishment was little more than a brothel and vice den for youths, said Mr Blandford.

Paul Harding, director of Discover History, said it’s possible Dickens used Worcester people as inspiration, adding that it is believed the author visited the city for a public reading of A Christmas Carol.

“Most city’s in the 19th century have characters that would fit a best selling Charles Dickens novel,” he said.

“Having spent years researching the history of Worcester, with primary and secondary sources, you do have to check, that what you’re reading are not extracts from Oliver Twist and Bleak House.

“Petty criminals, overflowing privies, murder, gangs and poverty are sadly the result of fast paced industrialisation,” he added.