Charles Dickens (1812-1870), the famous 19th century British author was born in Portsmouth on 7 February 1812 and as a child moved with his parents to Chatham, Kent. His father, it would appear was a bit of a spendthrift who landed in debtors prison and caused the family to move to London. Family poverty meant that Dickens had to leave school early to go out to work but he manage to return to education and subsequently became a parliamentary reporter. Dickens achieved fame with the publication of Pickwick Papers, 1836, the same year he married Catherine Hogarth. The first of their ten children was born the following year. Shortly after, they moved to 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 2LX – now the home of the Charles Dickens Museum.
During his lifetime, Dickens wrote fifteen novels, five novellas, and countless stories and essays. His skilfully drawn characters were, for the most part, composites of several characters that he knew, were acquainted with or came from local folklore. The settings for his works, again for the most part, were drawn from real life and throughout his writing career he was a frequent visitor to Dover. On some occasions, the visits were undertaken while he was on speaking tours or to and from holidays in Boulogne or Continental touring holidays.
The South Eastern Railway line to Dover was completed by 27 January 1844 and by 1851 the railway was beginning to eclipse coach travel as the best form of transport. Charles Dickens first travelled by train to Dover when he was going to Paris in 1851, having previously undertaken the journey by mail coach. He was astounded by both the comfort and the speed but asked what has SER ‘done with all the horrible little villages we used to pass through, in the diligence? (A Flight published 1851). The following year, Dickens had an extended stay in the town and on the last house in Camden Crescent, before the car park, is a Dover Society plaque in honour of the great writer. The actual house where Dickens stayed in 1852 was destroyed during World War II (1939-1945) but due to renumbering the last house is now 10 Camden Crescent.
Dickens had intended to stay at number 10 from July to October 1852 but this was interrupted by a tour with amateur players, taking in London, Nottingham, Derby, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Sunderland, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool. As soon as the tour was finished he returned to Dover. His friend, the novelist Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) visited while Dickens was at Camden Crescent and wrote a vivid account of the regulated way the household was run – breakfast at 08.10 hours, afterwards writing until 14.00 hours then walking. Dinner was at 17.30 hours and bed between 22.00-23.00hours. Walking was an integral part of Dickens times in Dover and this is confirmed in the letters he wrote as well as by Wilkie Collins amongst others.
Besides the tour, Dickens was working on Bleak House the working title of which, was Tom-all-Alone’s. Although set in London the slums described, at that time, were found in many other British towns including Dover. Bleak House was first published in serial form between March 1852 and September 1853 and it is believed that Dover’s Pier District provided the atmosphere for Tom-all-Alone’s.
This was the maritime quarter at the west side of Dover and had grown without any form of planning on reclaimed land. South Eastern Railway had laid their track from Folkestone to Dover following the base of the cliffs, tunnelling through and blowing one up – Round Down Cliff! Thus their terminus in Dover, the Town Station, was next to the sea in the Pier District. Not long after the railway arrived, nearby Admiralty Pier was started and the Lord Warden Hotel was built. The latter provided an opulent oasis in what was otherwise the ancient maritime quarter. Above the cliffs, that were the backdrop of the Pier District, is Western Heights. These were heavily fortified during the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) and in Dickens’ time the Heights housed one of the country’s major garrisons. A mercantile area had developed between the cliffs and the ancient maritime quarter, this included Snargate Street, Limekiln Street and Strond Street. The maritime quarter was a maze of streets, some dating back to Elizabethan times and it was the atmosphere of this part of the Pier District that Dickens captured in Bleak House. Immediately following the 1852 stay, Dickens went to Boulogne with his wife as he had on previous occasions.
Up until the 1840s there was no doubt that Dickens had collected material for his eighth novel, David Copperfield, while visiting Dover. The novel was first published as a serial in 1849/50 and as a book, 1850. David, the hero of the story, is born into a comfortable middle class family but his father dies before he is born. His soft-hearted mother and the loyal housekeeper, Clara Peggotty and throughout the novel referred to as Peggotty are supported by David’s formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood. However, at his birth, when Miss Trotwood realises that the child is a boy she renounces him and departs.
Albeit, his mother and Peggotty are content until David’s mother marries again. The stepfather, Murdstone, and his sister initially dominate the household and after the death of David’s mother, they rule and David his far from happy. The situation goes from bad to worse and David ends up in the employment of Murdstone and Grinby. While there, David lodges with the kindly Micawbers but they have major money problems and these force them to leave London. David, feeling abandoned decides to run away and find his long lost aunt, Betsey Trotwood whom, he believes, lives in Dover.
Having no money, David has to walk from London to Dover but eventually arrives tired, penniless and hungry. He rests by sitting on a baker’s steps in Market Square – immediately after publication identified as Igglesden and Graves. John Igglesden had opened the bakery in 1788 and his descendants went into partnership with the Graves family. In 1905, with the building of Lloyds Bank next door, the baker’s shop was rebuilt by C E Beaufoy in a mock Tudor style. The bakery was then expanded to include a restaurant and the business was there until 1967. The premises were then sold to John Wilkins, who also had bought properties in the adjacent Church Street for redevelopment. However, he ensured that the Igglesden and Graves façade remained. The premises were subsequently occupied by stationer Dennis Weaver before becoming a café in 1993.
Having rested, David goes to the seashore and inquires among the boatmen after Miss Trotwood. He is told that, ‘she lived in the Southforeland Light, and had singed her whiskers by so doing so;’ another says that she was made fast to the great buoy outside the harbour, and could only be visited at half-tide; a third, that she was locked up in Maidstone Gaol for child-stealing and a fourth, that ‘she was seen to mount a broom, in the last high wind, and make direct for Calais!‘ David then asks the fly drivers but they were not helpful nor were the shopkeepers, whom he asks. Eventually, David returns to the Market Square and starts chatting with a kindly fly driver. He tells David that Miss Trotwood lives along the path to Western Heights but warns him that the old lady hates boys.
The path referred to, which included a flight of steps, took David to a site that the Pilots had purchased in 1689. The steps, from the site, led down to Snargate Street to enable the Pilots to get to their boats quickly. From before Dickens’ time, the site, now allotments, could also be approached from Adrian Street by the Sixty-Four Steps. By 1730, a wooden Pilot’s lookout had been built on Cheeseman’s Head, where these days, Admiralty Pier leaves the shore, and Pilot’s Field, as it was called, was let out for grazing to raise money for Pilots’ pensions. By Dickens time the Field had been renamed Pilots Meadow and was a favourite resting place of the author when walking the cliffs. In Dickens days the former Pilots cottages on the seaside of the Meadow were still standing. At least one cottage, for a senior Upper Case Pilot, was said to have a double front and a small walled in garden. It was this cottage that it was believed was Betsey Trotwood’s home, which Dickens’ describes as, ‘A very neat little cottage with cheerful bow windows: in front of it, a square gravelled court or garden full of flowers; carefully tended and smelling deliciously.‘
Although there is no doubt as to the location of Betsey Trotwood’s cottage in Dover, traditionally the lady herself appears to be a composite of two Dover characters plus Dickens’ imagination. The first lady was Betty Burville, cited by Mary Horsley, in her 1895 book Memories of Old Dover as the character on which Betsey Trotwood was based. From conversations with elderly local folk, Mary Horsley was told that Betty Burville wore outrageous clothes and lived in the vicinity of Pilots Meadow. Further, she was, ‘a terror to us children, it being popularly supposed that she ate naughty children, and the horrid old woman encouraged the idea. Naturally the boys were her sworn enemies, and one of my brothers remembers boring a hole with gimlet, in her rain water butt, that she might find it empty in the morning!’ Modern day local historian, Peter Burville has provided further evidence to unequivocally support Miss Horsley’s thesis. (Dover Society Newsletter July 2012 p 42 – p43).
The second Dover lady that went to make the character of Betsey Trotwood was Sarah Rice (1754-1841), the formidable mother of Dover’s Member of Parliament (1837-1857), Edward Royd Rice (1790-1878). She lived in the area of the present petrol station on Townwall Street and nearby a Mr Golder kept a stud of donkeys that visitors to the town would hire for riding on the seashore. Sarah loudly, vehemently and frequently yelled at these donkeys as they had a habit of invading her beautifully kept garden to eat the plants! Further, she was wealthy so her home had at least one bath, which was highly unlikely in the Pilots cottages. Returning to the novel, once David has convinced his aunt of his identity she asks the advice of Mr Dick, her companion, what to do with him. Mr Dick responds by saying that he should be washed, to which Betsey calls out, ‘Janet, … and turning with a quiet triumph which I did not understand, (says) Mr Dick sets us all right. Heat the bath!’ Although Sarah had died at about the time Dickens started to come to Dover, as the mother of one of Dover’s MPs she was a well-remembered character. Further she had been an active business associate of the Latham Bank, one of Dover’s two banks. The other bank was Fectors, whose manservant, Henry Stone, throughout Dickens time owned the Apollonian Hall. This was close to the Pilots Steps on Snargate Street and where Dickens always performed when he came to Dover.
In the 1930s author Walter Dexter wrote a series of books about Charles Dickens. And in one of these, The Kent of Dickens, he rubbished Dover’s claims cited above preferring Broadstairs, north Kent. For instance, he said that ‘The location of Betsey Trotwood at Dover is purely imaginary…’ . He went on to say that ‘there is no record of Dickens having stayed for any length of time until 1852, three years after he had introduced it by name…’ This came under attack from Dover’s intelligentsia of the time pointing out, in detail, that Dickens came to Dover as part of an acting troop when they performed at the Apollonian Hall. Further, the great author crossed the Channel to go to France from Dover and returned using the same route. Finally, they argued, if Dexter was correct why did Dickens emphatically state that the town which David came, to find his aunt was Dover – there was no logic to Dexter’s claims. Sadly, Broadstairs claim over David Copperfield and some of other Dickens works at Dover’s expense are cited on the Internet as correct.
Turning to the housekeeper in David Copperfield, Peggotty, when David is a child she takes him to Yarmouth in East Anglia, to stay with her brother and his family. They lived in an upturned boat and up to the 1930s, when Dover was effectively cauterised from Dickens work, it was assumed that the dwelling was based on Smith’s Folly at East Cliff. John Smith, the father of Admiral Sir Sidney Smith who fought Napoleon’s fleet, had built the Folly from upturned boats and it went on to serve as a tourist attraction.
In 1856 Dickens was again in Dover on an extended stay. He arrived on 15 March and left on 23 May. For the duration of the visit, he resided at the Ship Hotel, on Custom House Quay, to work on Little Dorritt. As before, while at Dover, Dickens went for long walks, some of which were recounted in Out of Season. This was published on 28 June 1856 in the weekly magazine edited by Dickens, Household Words. While taking these walks Dickens would chat with locals, and he recounts some of the conversations. While he was talking with Mr Clocker, a grocer the conversation is brought to an end by the sounds of a ship in distress. Dickens tells us, ‘… we saw hovellers, (boatmen), to a man leap in the boats and tear about to hoist sail and get off, as if they had everyone of ’em gone, in a moment, raving mad.’
Three years later, in April 1859, Dickens published the first chapter of his twelfth novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Some years ago, I undertook a piece of research showing that it was Dickens 1856 stay that inspired many of the themes and after a presentation to the Dickensian Fellowship, my work was published in the Dickensian, (Summer 2002 pp 140-144). In the Tale of Two Cities preface, Dickens states that, ‘the main idea of this story’ was conceived while acting ‘with my children and friends, in Mr Wilkie Collins’s drama The Frozen Deep.’ Albeit, Andrew Sander’s states in his 1988 Companion to A Tale of Two Cities, ‘what was clearly not associated with The Frozen Deep was the historical setting of the proposed novel.’
A Tale of Two Cities is set at the time of the French Revolution (1787-1792) and starts with a mail coach journey to Dover. Making an oblique reference to smuggling – one of the town’s major occupations at the time – Dickens wrote: ‘The little narrow crooked town of Dover is itself away from the beach, and ran its head into the chalk cliffs, like a marine ostrich. The beach was a desert of heaps of sea and stones tumbling wildly about, and the sea did what it liked, and what it liked was destruction. It thundered at the town and thundered at the cliffs, and brought the coast down madly … A little fishing was done in the port and a quantity of strolling about by night, and looking seaward, particularly at those times when the tide made and was near flood. Small tradesmen who did no business whatever, sometimes unaccountably realised large fortunes and it were remarkable that nobody in the neighbourhood could endure a lamplighter!’
Travelling in the coach is Jarvis Lorry, agent for Tellson’s Bank in London. He is planning to go across the Channel to France and then on to Paris. While on the coach he receives a mysterious message and sends back the answer, ‘Recalled to Life’. He eventually arrives at coach terminus, which Dickens tells us is the Royal George. There Lorry meets, by appointment, Lucie Manette, ‘Mam’selle’, who is French-born but brought up in England. Lorry tells Lucie that her father, the physician Dr Alexandre Manette, is not dead but has for many years been held a prisoner in the Bastille, Paris and that he had recently been released!
There is little doubt that the character of Lucie is based on that of Ellen Ternan (1839-1914), whom Dickens met in 1857 and not long after became his mistress. The final stop for the London mail coaches, which had been introduced in 1786, was the Ship Inn, on Custom House Quay. The Royal George, according to Paul Skelton’s excellent website on Kent pubs (dover-web.com), did not exist at that time. The ‘Concord’ bedchamber, which Dickens tells us Lorry was given, was in the Ship Inn and it was particularly used by affluent mail coach passengers. Also of significance, it was at the Ship where Dickens was staying in 1856! In a letter to Wilkie Collins, Dickens told Collins that he had ‘two charming rooms … overlooking the sea in the gayest way.’
At the end of 1993, my academically acclaimed book, Banking on Dover, was published. It is a factual account of two diverse banking families who lived in Dover between 1685 and 1846. One of these families was the Fectors who made their fortune by financing smuggling operations, backing privateering ships and land deals. An important member of the family was John Minet Fector, (1754-1821) who, prior to the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) effectively became the East Kent ‘Godfather’. He was wealthy, well educated, confident and very popular. Fector’s greatest friend was George Jarvis who following the Wars managed the Fector Bank while Fector was abroad and after Fector’s death. George Jarvis was also of a charming disposition such that both his mistress and her mother bequeathed him a grand estate in Lincolnshire, where he died in 1851 aged 77.
When I re-read A Tale of Two Cities, sometime after the publication of my book, I was struck by the fact that Dickens had called one of the first two characters, Jarvis Lorry and the other Lucie Manette. These names were similar to those who played important roles in the Fector family. Fector’s father, Peter Fector, had worked for his uncle – Isaac Minet and initially the bank was the Minet bank! Not only was Fector’s best friend a Jarvis, his mother’s maiden name was Laurie! Of interest, Fector’s son, named after his father, took over the bank when he was old enough and amalgamated it with the National Provincial Bank. Shortly after, in order to become the Chairman of the National Provincial Bank, he took his mother’s maiden – that of Laurie! Spelt differently but sounding the same as the Lorry of A Tale of Two Cities. Also of interest, Fector junior, following his father’s death, had effectively been brought up by his faithful servant, Henry Stone who subsequently became the proprietor of the Apollonian Hall, mentioned above, where Dickens performed when in Dover!
Dickens’ rooms at the Ship faced onto Custom House Quay and Dickens states in Out of Season, that, ‘…It was impossible, under the circumstances, for any mental resolution, merely human, to dismiss the Custom-house cutter, because the shadow of her topmast fell upon my paper, and the vane played on the masterly blank chapter…’ Custom House Quay was the landward quay in the Bason, later Granville Dock. The entrance to the dock was directly opposite and at that time had on one side a clock tower with a red face and white numbers. Dickens tells us in the same essay, that ‘I had scarcely fallen into my most promising attitude, and dipped my pen in the ink, when I found the clock upon the pier – a red-faced clock with a white rim – importuning me in a highly vexatious manner to consult my watch, and see how I was off for Greenwich time.’
After one of his long walks, Dickens tells us that he went back to the Ship and debated on whether to go and see the Black Mesmerist or to settle down and read. He opts for the latter saying, ‘…indeed I had not left France alone, but had come from the prisons of St Pélagie with my distinguished and unfortunate friend Madam Roland (in two volumes) which I bought for two francs each at the book-stall in the Place de la Concorde.’ Sainte-Pélagie was a prison in Paris from 1790 to 1899, Jeanne Manon Roland (1754-1793), was an engraver’s daughter who was politically minded, married and worked closely with her politically active husband. In 1792, her husband held the highest post in France but it was a poisonous chalice for they soon fell from grace but with her help, he escaped. Madam Roland remained a prisoner and was guillotined on 17 November 1793. Two days later her husband committed suicide outside Rouen. Dickens recounts that evening writing, ‘We spent some sadly interesting hours together on this occasion, and she told me (Madam Roland, the author) again of her cruel discharge from the Abbaye, and of her being re-arrested before her free feet had sprung lightly up half-a-dozen steps of her own staircase and carried off to the prison which she only left for the guillotine.’
Although France had been an ally of Britain during the Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856), by late spring 1856, the political relations between the two countries were becoming strained. This was due to Emperor Napoleon III (1852–1870) reasserting France’s authority in Europe and the threat, perceived by the British government, led to Dover being chosen as the primary garrison. The most extensive and expensive programme of defence constructions up to that time took place and these included the erecting of the Gun Turret on Admiralty Pier and additional defensive works on Western Heights costing £37,577. These could have been a contributory factor for Dickens decision to base a novel on France at the time of the Revolution, which was the major event that had preceded the Napoleonic Wars. It is known that Dickens had read Thomas Carlyle’s (1795-1881), French Revolution over 500 times!
Returning to Tale of Two Cities, the story is in two halves. Five years after Lucie and Jarvis Lorry return to England, bringing Dr Manette from Paris, they are obliged to testify in a treason trial. This is held at the Old Bailey and the accused is Charles Darney, who for reasons unclear frequently goes France and therefore is accused of sedition. However, Darney is acquitted after his counsel, C J Stryver, points out that he closely resembles Sydney Carton. The persona of Sydney Carton, is said to be based on the character Richard Wardour, in The Frozen Deep. We are told that Carton is a brilliant English lawyer who loves Lucie Manette but drinks heavily and is a bit of a wastrel. In his first manuscript Dickens gives Carton’s first name as Dick, but finally chooses Sydney after Algenon Sydney (1623-1683). He was a former Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports during the Commonwealth Period (1649-1660) and was charged with complicity in the Rye House Plot (1683) along with William Lord Russell (1639-1683). Both were tried by Judge Jeffries (1645-1689) and executed in 1683. Dickens dedicated A Tale of Two Cities to Lord John Russell (1792-1878), a descendent of the hapless Lord William.
The character of Charles Darney is said to be based on an actor but like John Minet Fector, Charles Darney was wealthy, well educated and assured. Further, on Monday 22 April 1799, the Officers of the militia regiments, quartered at Dover Castle, all withdrew their accounts from the Fector Bank, and ‘Sometime during that day, John Minet Fector left Pier House, his home in Dover, and disappeared into Dover’s back streets. A reward of £2000 was offered for his apprehension, his crime … aiding the enemy.’ This sudden allegation followed the presentation of a 800 page report to the Directors of the East India Company in London, by Jacob Bosanquet (1755-1828). The details of the report centred on ‘illicit trade against the chartered rights of the East India Company that amounted to treason.’ Although there are no surviving records as to why Fector made numerous surreptitious trips to France that were recounted at the trial, the case against him was overwhelming. Yet when the verdict was given, much to everyone’s surprise he was exonerated!
Pier House was on Strond Street and fronted onto Custom House Quay, next to the Ship Inn. During the 1840s when the bank merger took place, Fector’s son sold Pier House to John Birmingham, the owner of the Ship. He converted Pier House into suites for long staying guests and Dickens occupied the suite overlooking Custom House Quay! In 1814, Louis XVIII of France (1814-1824) stayed at Pier House as a guest of Fector, by which time it was already part of local legend that Fector had helped many to escape from Madam Guillotine! On 7 September 1853, the opulent Lord Warden Hotel, close to Admiralty Pier and Town Station opened and John Birmingham was asked to become the manager. This position he eventually took and when he did, Dickens stayed at the hotel rather than the Ship Inn. In a letter, dated 1863, Dickens referred to John Birmingham and his wife as ‘my much esteemed friends.’ So they too, along with Henry Stone, would, no doubt, have told Dickens about John Minet Fector and the treason trial.
Apollonian Hall, Snargate Street, where Dickens gave presentations was demolished in 1930 to widen the then Commercial Quay. The presentations mainly consisted of Dickens reading passages from his works and on Tuesday 5 November 1861 he gave a two hour presentation from Pickwick Papers published as a serial in 1827-28 and Nicholas Nickleby published as a serial in 1838-39. Of the occasion, the Dover Express reported that ‘at times the silence in the crowded room was profound. The characters were brought upon the stage like old friends with new faces – to the bounded delight of the audience, who laughed and applauded almost unceasingly from beginning to end.’ While Dickens later wrote, ‘The effect of the readings at … Dover really seems to have outdone the best usual impression, … they wouldn’t go … The people in the stalls set the example of laughing, in the most curiously unreserved way, and they laughed with such really cordial enjoyment, when Squeers read the boys’ letters, that the contagion extended to me. For one couldn’t hear them without laughing too.’ (Letter to Mary Hogarth November 1861)
As Dickens grew older, it is well recorded that he came to Dover to relax and write. He frequently stayed with artist and later photographer, Lambert Weston. Weston had two houses in Waterloo Crescent, one of which was managed by his housekeeper and let to visitors such as Dickens. By that time, Dickens had a habit of getting up later than formerly and on fine days would walk up to Pilots Meadow, taking his writing materials and he would lie on the grass and work. In the Times of 1 January 1896, it states that Lambert Weston of Dover was an intimate friend of Charles Dickens.
Presented: 21 December 2015