And so we come to the final in our series celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of author Charles Dickens. This week we thought we’d take a look at a few of the key places you can go for a daytrip from London to find more Dickens-related sites…
• Portsmouth. Dickens was born here on 7th February, 1812, and the modest home in which this took place is now the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum (www.charlesdickensbirthplace.co.uk). The house featured three furnished rooms and an exhibition room with a display on Dickens’ connections with Portsmouth and memorabilia including the couch on which he died at Gad’s Hill Place. Fans from all over the world will be converged in Portsmouth later this year when the International Dickens Fellowship Bicentenary Conference 2012 is held over 9th to 14th August (www.dickensfellowship.org/Events/annual-conference-2012).
• Chatham and Rochester, Kent. Dickens spent five years of his childhood (from 1817 to 1822) living in Chatham and as a result it and the neighbouring Medway town of Rochester helped to inspire some of the characters and places in some of his most famous works. Restoration House in Rochester, for example, is believed to have been the inspiration for Satis House, where Miss Havisham lived in Great Expectations while Eastgate House (pictured) features as Westgate in both The Pickwick Papers and as the Nun’s House in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Until 2004, the house served as the Charles Dickens Centre and interestingly, the Swiss chalet in which Dickens wrote was moved here in the 1960s from Gad’s Hill Place – it can be seen over the fence. The area has celebrated its connections with Dickens with an annual festival every year since 1978 – this year’s takes place on the 8th, 9th and 10th June. See www.medway.gov.uk/leisureandculture/events/dickensfestival.aspx for more. (Late addition: We neglected to mention Dickens World located at Chatham, an interactive experience which recreates nineteenth century England – you can find more about it here www.dickensworld.co.uk).
• Broadstairs, Kent. Dickens first came to stay at this seaside resort in 1837 when he was 25-years-old and already had a reputation on the rise. He repeatedly returned over the next couple of decades. The Dickens House Museum (www.dickensfellowship.org/branches/broadstairs) was once the home of Miss Mary Pearson Strong on whom much of the character of Miss Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield is believed to be based. It features a range of Dickens-related artefacts, including letters he wrote from or about Broadstairs. The Broadstairs Dickens Festival runs from 16th to 22nd June.
• Gad’s Hill Place, Higham, Kent. Dickens died here in 1870 after spending the last 13 years of his life living at the property. It’s now a school (www.gadshill.org) but the ground floor will be open to the public this summer, from 25th July to 19th August, for pre-booked tours of reception rooms and the study where he wrote Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, A Tale of Two Cities and the unfinished novel Edwin Drood. For more information on the tours, see www.dickensmuseum.com/news/gads-hill-place-to-open-to-public/.
This was the last in our series on Charles Dickens – next week we start a new series in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. For more events surrounding the Dickens celebrations both in London and elsewhere, see www.dickens2012.org.