Charles Dickens at 200

PUBLISHED: 12:25 16 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:54 20 February 2013

Charles Dickens at 200

Charles Dickens at 200

2012 marks the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. A writer who spent much of his life in Kent, it is no surprise that the county both inspired his work and featured in it

Charles Dickens at 200

2012 marks the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. A writer who spent much of his life in Kent, it is no surprise that the county both inspired his work and featured in it. And its not just places that have a link with Dickens, there are plenty of people in Kent who love him too!


Restoration House, Rochester

Restoration House, a beautiful Elizabethan mansion, lies not far from the High Street in Rochester. It is widely believed that Dickens used Restoration House as his inspiration for Miss Havisham's Satis House in Great Expectations.

Within a quarter of an hour we came to Miss Havisham's house, which was of old brick, and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred. There was a court-yard in front, and that was barred; so, we had to wait, after ringing the bell, until someone should come to open it. While we waited at the gate, I peeped in and saw that at the side of the house there was a large brewery. No brewing was going on in it, and none seemed to have gone on for a long long time.

Bleak House, Broadstairs

Dickens was very fond of Broadstairs and spent many summers here with his family. Subsequently, the seaside town has reciprocated his affection by establishing a Dickens museum in the town and running an annual Dickens Festival.

From the 1840s until the early 1850s, Dickens and his family chose to stay in Fort House, an imposing place perched on a clifftop overlooking Vikings Bay. Its thought that this formidable building was the inspiration for Bleak House, whose title the house has subsequently taken.

The building houses a small study in which Dickens planned that novel and in which he wrote the majority of arguably his most famous novel, David Copperfield.

Rochester Cathedral, Rochester

Dickens spent much of his youth in Rochester and so its unsurprising that a structure as imposing and important as the cathedral should find its way into his work. In his final book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which lay unfinished on his death), the cathedrals crypt is brought to life in this evocative piece of writing.

Dear Me, said Mr Grewgious, peeping in, its like looking down the throat of Old Time. Old Time heaved a mouldy sigh from tomb and arch and vault; and gloomy shadows began to deepen in corners; and damps began to rise from green patches of stone; and jewels, cast upon the pavement of the nave from stained glass by the declining sun, began to perish... all became grey, murky and sepulchral, and the cracked monotonous mutter went on like a dying voice, until the organ and the choir burst forth, and drowned it in a sea of music.

Not the most flattering of descriptions, but then Rochester Cathedral is probably a bit cleaner today than it was back then.

Gadshill Place, Higham

Gadshill Place always held an attraction for Dickens. During his youth, when on walks with his father, they would stop outside to admire this house. It left such an impression on the young Dickens that when the opportunity arose many years later to buy Gadshill Place, it was one that he couldnt ignore. And in 1856 he finally became its owner.

During his time here he produced a number of his most famous works, including A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend. He did a lot of his writing, specifically in the summer months, in a miniature Swiss Chalet that had been installed in the garden.

It was in this house that Dickens passed away on 9 June 1870.

The Sun Hotel, Canterbury

Canterbury features in several of his works but most prominently in David Copperfield. Sadly a lot of the buildings mentioned in the book no longer exist, having been lost during the war. But located just a few steps from Canterbury Cathedral there is one hidden gem that has survived. Its believed that The Sun Inn, which today serves as a hotel and tearoom, is the little-inn where Mr Micawber lived.

It was a little inn where Mr. Micawber put up, and he occupied a little room in it, partitioned off from the commercial room, and strongly flavoured with tobacco-smoke. I think it was over the kitchen, because a warm greasy smell appeared to come up through the chinks in the floor, and there was a flabby perspiration on the walls. I know it was near the bar, on account of the smell of spirits and jingling of glasses.


Sandi Digby, Footsteps in Time

I started up Footsteps in Time in 2005, just after the Dickens Museum closed, as I felt that Rochester was in danger of losing its unique selling point - the close connection that it had with Charles Dickens, says Sandi Digby.

Today our tours bring to life the Rochester of Charles Dickens era, with a walk around the city that allows people to see and learn about the beautiful buildings Dickens immortalised in his books.

These walks are led by Dickensian characters, including Nancy and Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist, The Hon Samuel Slumkey and Tracy Tupman from Pickwick Papers, and Amy Dorrit of Little Dorrit fame. During the tour we visit 13 locations, which featured in Dickens books and short stories, as well as the beautiful Swiss Chalet where he wrote his last words.

Sandi adds: I think people still find Dickens appealing because he created such vivid characters. Anyone who has read one of his books, even if it was because it was compulsory at school, cannot help but to remember the characters.

Betsy Trottwood, shooing the donkeys off the grass, Nancy attempting to help Oliver while trying to protect Bill, Magwich frightening little Pip in the churchyard. He is able, with his excellent descriptions, to fire up the reader's imagination.

Walks with Footsteps in Time are usually only available on a pre-booked basis but in 2012 Sandi plans to offer open tours at set times on specified days, to encourage individuals and families to participate and learn more about Charles Dickens.

Find out more at the Rochester Visitor Information Centre, 01634 843666.

Thelma Grove. Rochester and Chatham branch of the Dickens Fellowship

The Dickens Fellowship was founded in 1902 as a way to connect people all across the world who have an interest in the work of Charles Dickens. Along with many branches in the UK and the US, there are also branches in Australia, New Zealand, India, Holland and Japan. Every year an international conference is held, which in 2012 will take place in Portsmouth, the birthplace of the great man.

The Rochester & Chatham Branch was founded in 1903 and became the 13th branch of the Fellowship. It is now one of the oldest and one of the most respected in the country.

A lot of people ask me why the appeal of Dickens endures, says Thelma Grove. I can only really speak for myself but for me, aside from him being a wonderful writer, part of the attraction is the humour contained within his work, which is something that often gets lost when his books are translated to film or television.

Although Dickens dealt with big social issues, he was always mindful to include a dash of humour here and there, and thats something Ive always found appealing.

In February the branch is organising a number of Dickens-related events, including lectures and dinners. If anyone wants to find out more they can look at our website or get in touch with us direct.

Kevin Christie

Managing Director, Dickens World

I wanted to create a living festival of the world of Charles Dickens and thats exactly what we have here, says Kevin Christie, managing director of Dickens World.

It has a strong educational element, but rather than deal with his books we are more about recreating his world - the people and places who gave him his inspiration.

We have the cells of Newgate Prison, the austere schoolroom of Dotheboys Hall and buildings straight out of an Oliver Twist film set. And these places have the real feel of what they would have been like in Dickens era.

Dickens is such as important figure both for Kent and the rest of the country. His works are probably second only to Shakespeare in notoriety and they still resonate with each generation that encounters them.

Kevin adds: I think Dickens would have loved this place as he was a natural showman himself, always travelling around the country reading his books. I think that he would also be happy that we are trying to turn more and more people onto his work.

He was a wonderful writer and its our hope that people might come here and re-engage with his work. Its a sad fact that Dickens is now less a feature in the school curriculum than he used to be and so less and less people are encountering more than one of his books.

We always have events taking place here, such as balls and theatrical pieces. However, with the bicentennial this year we will be doing much more in 2012!


Rochester High Street

As I sauntered along the old High Street on my way back towards Chatham, I seemed to dwindle more and more. Here was another old gate; here were very old houses, with the strangest gables; here was a queer, queer little old house, founded by Richard Watts, Esquire, for the nightly shelter of so many poor travellers, not being rogues or proctors who were dismissed each morning with a Godspeed and fourpence each.

Extract from: My Early Times, by Charles Dickens, compiled and edited by Peter Rowland.

Happy memories

I have many happy memories connected with Kent and am scarcely less interested in it than if I had been a Kentish man bred and born, and had resided in the county all my life.

Extract from: Letter from Dickens dated 1840 quoted in My Early Times and The Kent of Dickens, by W. Dexter, 1924.

Mid Kent

I have discovered that the seven miles between Maidstone and Rochester is one of the most beautiful walks in all England.

Extract from: Writing to William de Cerjat July 1858, quoted in The Kent of Dickens.


It is more delightful here than I can express. Corn growing, larks singing, garden full of flowers, fresh air on the sea. Oh it is wonderful! Why cant you come down next Saturday and go back with me on Wednesday

Writing to his biographer friend Forster 1st June 1851, quoted in The Kent of Dickens


5-11 February: Celebrating Dickens in Rochester and Chatham

A range of celebrations are planned by the Rochester and Chatham Dickens Fellowship. They include an opening parade, a Traditional Pantomime at the Britannia Theatre in Dickens World, a celebration at St Mary's Churchyard and a Dickens cream tea in Gun Warf, Chatham. Also planned is Bicentenary Dinner at The Leather Bottle, Cobham and a Dickensian Have Talent at the Brook Theatre.

6-8 February: Oliver at Woodville Halls Theatre, Gravesend

The cast of the country's top performing independent school will be bringing Dickens characters to life and performing classic songs from the musical, such as Food, Glorious Food and Consider Yourself.

11 February, 7pm: Dickens and Gravesham, an Illustrated Talk at Chalk Parish Church, Gravesend

Go back in time and learn about Dickens, his life and his various links with Gravesham with an illustrated talk by the Chalk History Group. Tickets available on the night at the Hall.

2 March: Gerald Dickens at the Woodville Theatre in Gravesend

Gerald Dickens is a great, great grandson of Charles Dickens. In 1993 he created his first one-man show, a theatrical performance of A Christmas Carol inspired by his ancestors energetic readings of the 1860s. A fascination with the life and works of his subject led him to write and direct further one-man shows including Mr Dickens is Coming!, Nicholas Nickleby and Sketches by Boz. He regularly performs in major theatres and arts centres.

7 March, 11am: Why Dickens still matters; a talk at Gravesend Visitor Centre, Towncentric

Author Lucinda Dickens Hawksley talks about her new book on her great, great, great grandfather, Charles Dickens. She looks at the man behind the books, his journalism, social campaigning and how he made a difference to the world in which he lived and why his ideals remain relevant today.

28-29 April: Baroque Theatre Company presents Great Expectations at the Memorial Theatre, Broadstairs

Tickets: 11 (members) and 13 f(non-members), 7:30pm Sat and 2:30pm Sun.

For more information, contact the Sarah Thorn Theatre Club, 0845 2626263 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 0845 2626263. end_of_the_skype_highlighting

1-30 May: Discover Gravesham Festival celebrates Dickens

Highlighting the wealth of history that Gravesham has to offer the Festival this year will have a strong Dickens theme.

27 May, 2.30pm: Dickens Chalk Village Tour

Chalks major claim to fame is its connection with Dickens. Here he spent his honeymoon with his new bride, Catherine Hogarth, and wrote the early instalments of Pickwick Papers. Dickens also used the old forge in the village as a model for Joe Gargerys cottage in Great Expectations. The building still stands as a historically listed building.

8-10 June: Medway Dickens Festival

Thousands of visitors soak up the Victorian atmosphere, while parades make their way through central historic Rochester each day. Newly commissioned theatrical and creative content planned to mark the bicentenary in Rochester.

16-22 June: Broadstairs Dickens Festival

Dickens visited Broadstairs regularly and immortalised the town as Our English Watering Place. In 1937, to commemorate the centenary of the author's first visit, Gladys Waterer, the then owner of Dickens House, decided to put on a production of David Copperfield and get people about the town in Victorian dress to publicise it. Thus the festival was born and, with the exception of the years of the Second World War, has been held annually in the third week of June ever since.

24 June, 2.30pm: Chalk Church Tour and Readings

There has been a church in Chalk for more than 1,000 years. It has strong associations both literary and biographical with Charles Dickens and as part of the Bicentenary celebrations, you can enjoy a tour of the church that was once so special to Dickens and listen to some of his readings.

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