The year 1838, in which Charles Dickens, accompanied by “Phiz,” hazarded
that bitter coach-ride to the northern wilds of Yorkshire, is memorable
also for another “bachelor excursion,” the two friends travelling by
road through the Midlands in the late autumn, _en route_ for
Warwickshire. They started from the coach office near Hungerford Street,
Strand, having booked seats to Leamington, where, on arrival, after a
very agreeable (but very cold) journey, they found “a roaring fire, an
elegant dinner, a snug room, and capital beds” awaiting them. The
“capital inn” affording these creature comforts to the two benumbed
passengers was Copps’s Royal Hotel, to which reference is made in
“Dombey and Son” as the establishment favoured by Mr. Dombey during his
stay at Leamington, the scene of his introduction to the lady who became
his second wife.

The next morning Dickens and “Phiz” drove in a post-chaise to
Kenilworth, “with which we were both enraptured” (the novelist observed
in a letter to his wife), “and where I really think we _must_ have
lodgings next summer, please God that we are in good health and all goes
well. You cannot conceive how delightful it is. To read among the ruins
in fine weather would be perfect luxury.”[91] A similar opinion is
recorded in his private diary: “Away to Kenilworth—delightful—beautiful
beyond expression. Mem.: What a summer resort!—three months lie about
the ruins—books—thinking—seriously turn this over next year.” Thence
they proceeded to Warwick Castle, to which Dickens referred with less
enthusiasm in the same epistle as “an ancient building, newly restored,
and possessing no very great attraction beyond a fine view and some
beautiful pictures”; thence to Stratford-on-Avon, where both novelist
and artist “sat down in the room where Shakespeare was born, and left
our autographs and read those of other people, and so forth.” Dickens’s
entry in the diary recording this circumstance is reminiscent of Alfred
Jingle’s staccato style; thus: “Stratford—Shakespeare—the birthplace,
visitors, scribblers, old woman—Qy. whether she knows what Shakespeare
did, etc.” The secretary and librarian of Shakespeare’s birthplace (Mr.
Richard Savage) informs me that he has understood that these signatures
of Dickens and “Phiz” were written upon one of the plaster panels in the
birth-room, but have since been destroyed; the church albums for the
years 1848 and 1852 contain signatures of Dickens and of the members of
his amateur theatrical company, then touring to raise funds for
charitable purposes.[92]

It is evident that Dickens’s first impressions of Stratford were
recalled in “Nicholas Nickleby,” where Mrs. Nickleby remarks, in her
usual inconsequent manner, upon the visit of herself and her husband to
the birthplace, and their lodging at a hostelry in the town. Warwick,
Kenilworth, and the neighbourhood the author remembered when writing the
twenty-seventh chapter of “Dombey and Son,” in the description of that
“most enchanting expedition” to the castle: “Associations of the Middle
Ages, and all that, which is so truly exquisite,” exclaimed Cleopatra
with rapture; “such charming times! So full of faith! So vigorous and
forcible! So picturesque! So perfectly removed from the commonplace!…
Pictures at the castle, quite divine!” “Those darling bygone times,” she
observed to Mr. Carker, bent upon showing him the beauties of that
historic pile, “with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old
dungeons, and their delightful places of torture, and their romantic
vengeances, and their picturesque assaults and sieges, and everything
that makes life truly charming! How dreadfully we have degenerated!”
Cleopatra and the rest of the little party “made the tour of the
pictures, the walls, crow’s nest, and so forth,” and the castle “being
at length pretty well exhausted,” and Edith Grainger having completed a
sketch of the exterior of the ancient building (concerning which sketch
Mr. Carker fawningly avowed that he was unprepared “for anything so
beautiful, and so unusual altogether”), a stroll among the haunted ruins
of Kenilworth, “and more rides to more points of view … brought the
day’s expedition to a close.”

[Illustration: THE LEATHER BOTTLE, COBHAM. (_Page 210._)
Dickens, in his early days, stayed at the Leather Bottle on more
than one occasion, and in 1841 spent a day and a night here with

Quitting Stratford the next day, Dickens and his companion intended to
proceed to Bridgnorth; but were dismayed to find there were no coaches,
which fact compelled them to continue their journey to Shrewsbury and
Chester by way of Birmingham and Wolverhampton, “starting by eight
o’clock through a cold, wet fog, and travelling, when the day had
cleared up, through miles of cinder-paths, and blazing furnaces, and
roaring steam-engines, and such a mass of dirt, gloom, and misery, as I
never before witnessed.”[93] His impressions of the Black Country are
vividly portrayed in the forty-third and succeeding chapters of “The Old
Curiosity Shop,” and there is good reason to suppose that a portion at
least of the itinerary of the pilgrimage of little Nell and her
grandfather, after their flight from London to escape from the evil
influence of Quilp, was based upon his own tour, undertaken two years
previously. Indeed, so far as the above-mentioned chapter is concerned,
there is evidence of this in a letter to Forster, apropos of the story,
where the novelist says: “You will recognise a description of the road
we travelled between Birmingham and Wolverhampton; but I had conceived
it so well in my mind that the execution does not please me so well as I

With regard to the depressing effect wrought upon the mind of the
traveller through the Black Country, it is gratifying to know that a
project is seriously contemplated by which this scene of waste and
desolation may be restored to its original condition by reafforestation.
Sir Oliver Lodge recently presided at an important meeting held in
Birmingham to consider the question, and it was agreed that, now that
the mineral wealth of the locality had been exhausted, it was only right
that the surface of the land should be altered for good by a system of
tree-planting, the land itself being rendered useless for mining,
agriculture, and habitation.

Birmingham is mentioned frequently throughout the works of Dickens, who
visited the city on several occasions, staying at one time at the old
Hen and Chickens Inn. He must have known this important manufacturing
centre in his journalistic days, for he made it the scene of that
well-remembered incident recorded in the fiftieth chapter of “The
Pickwick Papers,” where Mr. Pickwick calls upon Mr. Winkle, senior, with
a difficult and delicate commission. When the post-coach conveying Mr.
Pickwick and his friends drew near it was quite dark, “the straggling
cottages by the roadside; the dingy hue of every object visible; the
murky atmosphere; the paths of cinders and brick-dust; the deep red glow
of furnace fires in the distance; the volumes of dense smoke issuing
heavily forth from high, toppling chimneys, blackening and obscuring
everything around; the glare of distant lights; the ponderous waggons
which toiled along the road laden with clashing rods of iron, or piled
with heavy goods—all betokened their rapid approach to the great working
town of Birmingham. As they rattled through the narrow thoroughfares
leading to the heart of the turmoil, the sights and sounds of earnest
occupation struck more forcibly on the senses. The streets were thronged
with working people. The hum of labour resounded from every house,
lights gleamed from the long casement windows in the attic stories, and
the whirl of wheels and noise of machinery shook the trembling walls.
The fires, whose lurid, sullen light had been visible for miles, blazed
fiercely up in the great works and factories of the town. The din of
hammers, the rushing of steam, and the dead, heavy clanking of engines,
was the harsh music which arose from every quarter.” The postboy,
driving briskly through the open streets and past the “handsome and
well-lighted shops” on the outskirts of the town, drew up at the Old
Royal Hotel, where they were shown to a comfortable apartment. The _Old_
Royal survives in name only, the present building having been so altered
and modernized as to bear no resemblance to the three-storied structure,
with its plain, square front and Georgian porch, which temporarily
sheltered Mr. Pickwick. The residence of the elder Mr. Winkle (“a
wharfinger, Sir, near the canal”), whose name is a familiar one in
Birmingham, is believed to be a certain red-brick building in Easy Row,
in close proximity to the Old Wharf, a house which, with its white steps
leading to the doorway, answers fairly well to the description given in
the book.

In 1844 Dickens presided at a meeting of the Polytechnic Institution at
Birmingham, and delivered a powerful oration upon the subject of
education, comprehensive and unsectarian.

“A better and quicker audience,” he afterwards remarked, “never listened
to man”; and, in honour of the event, the large hall was profusely
decorated with artificial flowers, these also forming the words
“Welcome, Boz,” in letters about 6 feet high, while about the great
organ were immense transparencies bearing designs of an allegorical
character. In 1857 he was elected one of the first honorary members of
the Birmingham and Midland Institute, in which institution he had always
taken an active interest. In January, 1853, at the rooms of the Society
of Artists, Temple Row, a large company assembled to witness the
presentation to Dickens of a silver-gilt salver and diamond ring, in
recognition of valuable services rendered in aid of the fund then being
raised for the establishment of the Institute, and as a token of
appreciation of his “varied literary acquirements, genial philosophy,
and high moral teaching.” At the great banquet which followed this
interesting function, he offered to give Readings from his books in
further aid, and the promise was fulfilled in December, 1853, with the
result that nearly £500 were added to the fund; to commemorate these
first public Readings, Mrs. Dickens became the recipient of a silver

Other Readings were given in Birmingham in the sixties. In September,
1869, he opened the session of the Midland Institute, the ceremony being
rendered memorable by a powerful speech, in which he thus briefly
declared his political creed:

“My faith in the people governing is, on the whole, infinitesimal; my
faith in the people governed is, on the whole, illimitable.” In 1870, as
President of the Institute, he distributed at the Town Hall the prizes
and certificates awarded to the most successful students; one of the
prize-winners was a Miss Winkle, whose name (so reminiscent of
“Pickwick”) was received with good-humoured laughter, and it is recorded
that the novelist, after making some remarks to the lady in an
undertone, observed to the audience that he had “recommended Miss Winkle
to change her name!”

HONEYMOON, APRIL, 1836. (_Page 211._)
Some of the earlier chapters, of “Pickwick” were written here.]

If a brief note in the diary (under date October 31, 1838) may be
accepted as evidence, the travellers stayed at the White Lion in Factory
Road, Wolverhampton. Twenty years later (August and November, 1858)
Dickens gave public Readings here, and on the first occasion there was a
performance of “Oliver Twist” at the local theatre, “in consequence (he
opined) of the illustrious author honouring the town with his presence.”
Writing at this time of the appearance of the country through which he
had then passed, he said that it “looked at its blackest”; “all the
furnaces seemed in full blast, and all the coal-pits to be working….
It is market-day here (Wolverhampton), and the ironmasters are standing
out in the street (where they always hold high change), making such an
iron hum and buzz that they confuse me horribly. In addition there is a
bellman announcing something—not the Readings, I beg to say—and there is
an excavation being made in the centre of the open place, for a statue,
or a pump, or a lamppost, or something or other, round which all the
Wolverhampton boys are yelling and struggling.”[94]

Reverting to the tour of 1838, Dickens and “Phiz” left Wolverhampton for
Shrewsbury (the next stage), making their quarters at the old-fashioned
Lion Hotel, which establishment the novelist revisited during the
provincial Reading tour of 1858, when he thus described the inn to his
elder daughter:

“We have the strangest little rooms (sitting-room and two bedrooms
altogether), the ceilings of which I can touch with my hand. The windows
bulge out over the street, as if they were little stern windows in a
ship. And a door opens out of the sitting-room on to a little open
gallery with plants in it, where one leans over a queer old rail, and
looks all downhill and slantwise at the crookedest black and yellow old
houses, all manner of shapes except straight shapes. To get into this
room we come through a china closet; and the man in laying the cloth has
actually knocked down, in that repository, two geraniums and Napoleon
Bonaparte.” This quaint establishment, alas! has been modernized (if not
entirely rebuilt) since those days, and presents nothing of the
picturesqueness that attracted the author of “Pickwick.” Shrewsbury,
however, still retains and cherishes several of its “black and yellow”
(_i.e._, half-timbered) houses, and it is probably this town which we
find thus portrayed in the forty-sixth chapter of “The Old Curiosity
Shop”: “In the streets were a number of old houses, built of a kind of
earth or plaster, crossed and re-crossed in a great many directions with
black beams, which gave them a remarkable and very ancient look. The
doors, too, were arched and low, some with oaken portals and quaint
benches, where the former inhabitants had sat on summer evenings. The
windows were latticed in little diamond panes, that seemed to wink and
blink upon the passengers as if they were dim of sight.” On the night of
their arrival at Shrewsbury, Dickens and “Phiz” were present at a
“bespeak” at the theatre, and witnessed a performance of “The Love
Chase,” a ballet (“with a phenomenon!”),[95] followed by divers songs,
and the play of “A Roland for an Oliver.” “It is a good theatre,” was
the novelist’s comment, “but the actors are very funny. Browne laughed
with such indecent heartiness at one point of the entertainment that an
old gentleman in the next box suffered the most violent indignation. The
bespeak party occupied two boxes; the ladies were full-dressed, and the
gentlemen, to a man, in white gloves with flowers in their button-holes.
It amused us mightily, and was really as like the Miss Snevellicci
business as it could well be.”[96]

[Illustration: THE CORN EXCHANGE, ROCHESTER. (_Page 214._)
“It is oddly garnished with a queer old clock that projects over the
pavement … as if Time carried on business there and hung out his
sign” (“Seven Poor Travellers”).]

From the diary we learn that the friends journeyed by post-coach from
Shrewsbury over the Welsh border to Llangollen, passing two aqueducts by
the way—“beautiful road between the mountains—old abbey at the top of
mountain, Denis Brien or Rook Castle—Hand Hotel—Mrs. Phillips—Good.” The
parish of Llangollen is intersected by the celebrated aqueduct of
Pont-y-Lycylltan, and contiguous thereto stands Valle Crucis Abbey.
Thence the itinerary included Bangor, Capel Curig, Conway, Chester,
Birkenhead, Manchester (Adelphi Hotel), and Cheadle. There is good
reason for supposing that Dickens, during this tour, availed himself of
the opportunity of visiting the peaceful and picturesque village of
Tong, on the north-eastern borders of the county of Salop, and that he
probably posted there from Shrewsbury; for he assured the late
Archdeacon Lloyd that Tong Church is the veritable church described in
“The Old Curiosity Shop” as the scene of little Nell’s death.

“It was a very aged, ghostly place; the church had been built many
hundreds of years ago, and had once had a convent or monastery attached;
for arches in ruins, remains of oriel windows, and fragments of
blackened walls, were yet standing; while other portions of the old
building, which had crumbled away and fallen down, were mingled with the
churchyard earth and overgrown with grass, as if they too claimed a
burying-place and sought to mix their ashes with the dust of men.” Tong
Church was erected about the year 1411, and is a fine specimen of Gothic
architecture of the Early Perpendicular period. Owing to its fine
monuments it is called “The Westminster Abbey of the Midlands.” There
yet remain the original oak choir-stalls with the miserere seats and
carved poppy-heads; the old oak roof with its sculptured bosses; the
painted screens in the aisles, of very rich workmanship; and the
beautiful Vernon Chantry, called “The Golden Chapel,” from its costly
ornamentation, referred to in the story as the “baronial chapel.” The
sacred edifice underwent various reparations during the period between
1810 and 1838, still presenting, however, an exceedingly picturesque
aspect when the novelist beheld it in the latter year. Although a more
thorough restoration took place in 1892, we are assured that no old
features have been destroyed, but doubtless much of the halo of
antiquity, which imparts a poetical charm to such structures, is not so
evident as of yore. That Dickens derived inspiration from Tong and its
environment for the “local colouring” in chap. xlvi. and later chapters
of “The Old Curiosity Shop” it is impossible to doubt.

[Illustration: THE GUILDHALL, ROCHESTER. (_Page 214._)
Where Pip was bound prentice to Joe Gargery. Hogarth and his friends
played hopscotch under the colonnade in 1732.]

In December, 1858, Dickens was entertained at a public dinner at the
Castle Hotel, Coventry, on the occasion of receiving a gold repeater
watch of special construction by the watchmakers of the town. This gift
was tendered as a mark of gratitude for his Reading of the “Christmas
Carol,” given a year previously in aid of the funds of the Coventry
Institute. In acknowledging this testimonial the recipient said:

“This watch, with which you have presented me, shall be my companion in
my hours of sedentary working at home and in my wanderings abroad. It
shall never be absent from my side, and it shall reckon off the labours
of my future days…. And when I have done with time and its
measurement, this watch shall belong to my children; and as I have seven
boys, and as they have all begun to serve their country in various ways,
or to elect into what distant regions they shall roam, it is not only
possible, but probable, that this little voice will be heard scores of
years hence—who knows?—in some yet unfounded city in the wilds of
Australia, or communicating Greenwich time to Coventry Street, Japan….
From my heart of hearts I can assure you that the memory of to-night,
and of your picturesque and ancient city, will never be absent from my
mind, and I can never more hear the lightest mention of the name of
Coventry without having inspired in my breast sentiments of unusual
emotion and unusual attachment.” The novelist bequeathed the watch (and
the chain and seals worn with it) to his “dear and trusty friend” John

In 1849 Dickens was an honoured guest at Rockingham Castle,
Northamptonshire, the home of his friends the Hon. Richard Watson and
Mrs. Watson. Writing thence to Forster, he said: “Picture to yourself,
my dear F., a large old castle, approached by an ancient keep (gateway),
portcullis, etc., filled with company, waited on by six-and-twenty
servants … and you will have a faint idea of the mansion in which I am
at present staying….” His visits to Rockingham were often repeated,
and in the winter of 1850 he there supervised the construction of “a
very elegant little theatre,” of which he constituted himself the
manager, and early in the following year the theatre opened with
performances of “Used Up,” and “Animal Magnetism,” with the novelist
himself and members of his family in the cast of both plays. Charles
Dickens the younger considered that Rockingham Castle bears much more
than an accidental resemblance to Chesney Wold, the Lincolnshire mansion
of Sir Leicester Dedlock in “Bleak House,” upon which story his father
was engaged at the period here referred to. Indeed, the author himself
confessed as much to Mrs. Watson when he said: “In some of the
descriptions of Chesney Wold I have taken many bits, chiefly about trees
and shadows, from observations made at Rockingham.”

The castle is situated on a breezy eminence overlooking the valley of
the Welland, which river overflows occasionally and floods the
surrounding country, suggesting the watery Lincolnshire landscape
described in the second chapter of “Bleak House.” At the end of the
terrace is the Yew Walk, corresponding with the Ghost’s Walk at Chesney
Wold, and there is a sundial in the garden, also referred to in the
story. After passing under the archway, flanked by ancient bastion
towers (the remains of a former castle), a general view is obtained of
the north front of the mansion, one of the principal apartments in which
is the long drawing-room, the veritable drawing-room of Chesney Wold,
except that the fireplace is surmounted by a carved overmantel instead
of a portrait, while the family presentments at Rockingham are in the
hall, and not in the drawing-room, as related of those at Chesney Wold.
The village of Rockingham consists of one street, which ascends the hill
in the direction of the castle lodge; on the right as we enter the
village stands “a small inn” called the Sondes Arms, the prototype of
the Dedlock Arms, which bears the date 1763. The “solemn little church”
in the park, with its old carved oak pulpit, has been restored and
enlarged within the last thirty years. A footpath leading to the church
from the village street undoubtedly answers to Lawrence Boythorn’s
disputed right-of-way, concerning which that impulsive gentleman waxes
eloquent in the ninth chapter of “Bleak House.”

Of the county of Hertford Dickens always retained agreeable memories; he
frequently followed the advice once offered by him to W. H. Wills, to
“take a cheery flutter into the air of Hertfordshire.” During the early
years of his literary career he indulged a fondness for horse exercise,
and, generally accompanied by Forster, would ride to some destination a
few miles out of London, take luncheon at some favourite hostelry, and
thus enjoy a day’s recreation. Their usual refreshment-house on the
Great North Road was the Red Lion at High Barnet, in which town Oliver
Twist, footsore and weary, found a temporary resting-place on a cold
doorstep, and wondered at the great number of taverns there existing,
for (as related in the story) “every other house in Barnet was a tavern,
large or small.” We read in the same story that the infamous Bill Sikes,
in his flight after the murder of Nancy, eventually reached Hatfield,
turning down “the hill by the church of the quiet village, and, plodding
along the little street, crept into a small public-house….” It is
evident that Dickens knew Hatfield intimately, the topography of which
has since undergone considerable alteration in consequence of the
invasion of the Great Northern Railway. The “small public-house” entered
by Sikes was in all probability that quaint little ale-house the Eight
Bells, still flourishing at the bottom of the main street, while the
“little post-office,” where he recognised the mail from London, at that
time adjoined the Salisbury Arms (now a private residence), at which
establishment Dickens himself doubtless stayed on the night of October
27, 1838, when he and “Phiz” made their “bachelor excursion” to the West
Country.[97] Hatfield is introduced in “Mrs. Lirriper’s Lodgings,”[98]
for here, in the rural churchyard, Mr. Lirriper was buried; not that
Hatfield was his native place (explains the bereaved widow
pathetically), “but that he had a liking for the Salisbury Arms, where
we went upon our wedding-day, and passed as happy a fortnight as ever
happy was.” In after-years she “put a sandwich and a drop of sherry in a
little basket and went down to Hatfield churchyard, outside the coach,
and kissed my hand and laid it with a kind of a proud and swelling love
on my husband’s grave, though, bless you! it had taken me so long to
clear his name that my wedding-ring was worn quite fine and smooth when
I laid it on the green, green, waving grass.”

[Illustration: ROCHESTER ABOUT 1810. (_Page 215._)
_From old prints._]

Mr. Lirriper’s youngest brother, by the way, who was something of a
scapegrace, also retained a sneaking affection for the Salisbury Arms,
derived from less sentimental reasons; here he enjoyed himself for the
space of a fortnight, and left without paying his bill, an omission
speedily rectified by the kind-hearted Mrs. Lirriper, in the innocent
belief that it was fraternal affection which induced her unprincipled
brother-in-law to favour Hatfield with his presence.

In 1859 Dickens became much interested in a working men’s club
established at Rothamsted by the late Sir John Bennet Lawes, the
renowned scientist, the purpose of this club being to enable all
agricultural labourers of the parish to enjoy their ale and pipes
independently of the public-house. The novelist, accompanied by his
brother-in-law, Henry Austin, drove to Rothamsted for the express
purpose of inspecting this novel institution, which numbers to-day
nearly 200 members, and was so delighted with what he saw and heard
respecting it that he not only published an article on the subject,[99]
but eagerly recommended the formation of such clubs in other country
neighbourhoods. Sir John Lawes is, of course, the prototype of Friar
Bacon in the article aforesaid, where the worthy baronet’s beautiful
manor-house (in which his son and heir now resides) is thus described:
“The sun burst forth gaily in the afternoon, and gilded the old gables,
and old mullioned windows, and old weathercock, and old clock-face, of
the quaint old house which is the dwelling of the man we sought. How
shall I describe him? As one of the most famous practical chemists of
the age? That designation will do as well as another—better, perhaps,
than most others. And his name? Friar Bacon…. We walked on the trim
garden terrace before dinner, among the early leaves and blossoms; two
peacocks, apparently in very tight new boots, occasionally crossing the
gravel at a distance. The sun shining through the old house-windows now
and then flashed out some brilliant piece of colour from bright hangings
within, or upon the old oak panelling; similarly, Friar Bacon, as we
paced to and fro, revealed little glimpses of his good work.”

In “Bleak House” Hertfordshire plays a conspicuous part, and it is
generally believed that the original of John Jarndyce’s residence, which
gives its name to the story, is to be discovered in or near St. Albans,
as mentioned in the book itself. Indeed, a picturesque Early Georgian
building at the top of Gombards Road (on the northern outskirts of the
city) has been christened “Bleak House” in the supposition that it was
the veritable home of Mr. Jarndyce; and there appears to be some
justification for this, as the position of the house in its relation to
the abbey church, and the characteristics of the locality, are in
harmony with the details particularized in the story. There is evidence,
too, that Dickens lodged in St. Albans when engaged upon the early
chapters of his novel; he and Douglas Jerrold stayed at the Queen’s
Hotel in Chequer Street, and it was then rumoured in the town that the
object of Dickens’s visit was to obtain “local colour.” His younger
brother Frederick and his friend Peter Cunningham lived for a while in
St. Albans, and it is remembered by some of the older inhabitants that
the author of “Pickwick” occasionally journeyed to St. Albans, when
opportunities arose, for a gossip with those boon companions in their
country retreat.

Of all Hertfordshire localities with which Dickens formed an
acquaintance, that claiming the most intimate association with him is
the pretty little village of Knebworth, the ancestral home of the
Lyttons. A warm friendship existed between Lord Lytton and his brother
novelist, and when, in 1850, some private theatricals were arranged for
performance in the grand banqueting-hall, with “Boz” and his goodly
company of amateurs in the cast (including Leech, Lemon, Tenniel,
Stanfield, Forster, and others), mirth and jollity reigned supreme. The
plays went off “in a whirl of triumph” (wrote Dickens at the time), “and
fired the whole length and breadth of Hertfordshire,” which is not
surprising when the circumstances are recalled. At Knebworth originated
that unfortunate scheme known as the “Guild of Literature and Art,”
formulated by Dickens and Lord Lytton for the amelioration of the
hardships of impecunious authors and artists, the funds in aid of the
project being augmented by the proceeds derived from the theatrical
entertainments. It was intended to erect and endow a retreat for such
necessitous persons, and a block of houses (in the Gothic style) was
actually built upon ground near the main road at Stevenage, given by
Lord Lytton for the purpose. Unhappily, these praiseworthy efforts
failed to appeal to those for whose benefit they were designed, and the
guild houses, after remaining unoccupied for nearly twenty years, were
converted into “suburban villas,” the rents being available for the
relief of such applicants as were qualified to receive it. It was
generally believed that the failure to secure tenants for the guild
houses under the special regulations was due chiefly to the fact of
their being regarded as little better than almshouses, and too remote
from London to be easily accessible; it must not be forgotten, too, that
true genius looks askance at acts of charity performed in its behalf,
the spirit of independence which usually characterizes it rebelling at
anything that appears to assume the form of patronage, although it must
be admitted that the guild rules give no cause for suspicion on that
score. Dickens, in a speech delivered in 1865, after a survey of the
newly-completed and attractive domiciles, said: “The ladies and
gentlemen whom we shall invite to occupy the houses we have built will
never be placed under any social disadvantage. They will be invited to
occupy them as artists, receiving them as a mark of the high respect in
which they are held by their fellow-workers. As artists, I hope they
will often exercise their calling within those walls for the general
advantage; and they will always claim, on equal terms, the hospitality
of their generous neighbour.” But it was not to be, and probably nothing
proved so disappointing to Dickens as the almost contemptuous
indifference with which this philanthropic proposal was received both by
the press and the public, who ridiculed it unmercifully. As a memento of
the scheme, there may be seen nearly opposite the guild houses a
roadside tavern rejoicing in the sign of Our Mutual Friend, intended as
a delicate compliment to the author of the story so entitled, then in
course of publication.

During a visit to Knebworth in 1861, Dickens and Mr. (afterwards Sir)
Arthur Helps—sometime Queen’s Secretary—called upon a most extraordinary
character, locally known as “Mad Lucas,” who lived in an extremely
miserly fashion in the kitchen of his house (Elmwood House, at Redcoats
Green, near Stevenage). This strange recluse died of apoplexy in 1874,
and was buried in Hackney Churchyard; his house, with its boarded-up
windows, shored-up walls, and dilapidated roof, continued to remain an
object of interest for many years afterwards, until in 1893 it was razed
to the ground and the materials sold by public auction. James Lucas,
“the Hertfordshire Hermit,” was really a well-educated and highly
intellectual man, who inherited the estate of his father, a prosperous
West India merchant, and it is conjectured that his distress at the
death of his widowed mother (who lived with him) was primarily the cause
of that mental aberration which assumed such an eccentric form; he even
refused to bury her corpse, so that the local authorities were compelled
to resort to a subterfuge in order to perform themselves the last rites.
He objected to furnish his rooms, and, attired simply in a loose blanket
fastened with a skewer, preferred to eat and sleep amidst the cinders
and rubbish-heaps (a sanctuary for rats) which accumulated in the
kitchen. Although his diet consisted of bread and cheese, red herrings,
and gin, there were choice wines available for friendly visitors, a
special vintage of sherry being reserved for ladies who thus honoured
him. The hermit’s penchant for tramps attracted all the vagabonds in the
neighbourhood, so that it became necessary for him to protect himself
from insult by retaining armed watchmen and barricading the house.

In “Tom Tiddler’s Ground”[100] Dickens has depicted a miserly recluse
named Mopes, and it is easy to discern that Lucas sat for the
portrait—indeed, it is said that in reading the number he recognised the
presentment, and expressed great indignation at what he considered to be
a much exaggerated account of himself and his environment. In the
chapter devoted to Mr. Mopes, the novelist tells us that he found his
strange abode in “a nook in a rustic by-road, down among the pleasant
dales and trout-streams of a green English county.” He does not think it
necessary for the reader to know what county; suffice it to say that one
“may hunt there, shoot there, fish there, traverse long grass-grown
Roman roads there, open ancient barrows there, see many a mile of
richly-cultivated land there, and hold Arcadian talk with a bold
peasantry, their country’s pride, who will tell you (if you want to
know) how pastoral housekeeping is done on nine shillings a week.”

Those familiar with this portion of Hertfordshire cannot fail to
recognise in these allusions the neighbourhood of Stevenage, and a clue
to its identity is afforded by the allusion to “ancient barrows,” for at
Stevenage there are some remarkable tumuli known as the “Six Hills,”
which are believed to be ancient sepulchral barrows, or repositories of
the dead. If further evidence be required, it is forthcoming in the
following delightful portrayal of Stevenage itself, as it appeared to
Dickens over forty years ago:

“The morning sun was hot and bright upon the village street. The village
street was like most other village streets: wide for its height, silent
for its size, and drowsy in the dullest degree. The quietest little
dwellings with the largest of window-shutters (to shut up Nothing as
carefully as if it were the Mint or the Bank of England) had called in
the Doctor’s house so suddenly that his brass doorplate and three
stories stood among them as conspicuous and different as the Doctor
himself in his broadcloth among the smock frocks of his patients. The
village residences seem to have gone to law with a similar absence of
consideration, for a score of weak little lath-and-plaster cabins clung
in confusion about the Attorney’s red-brick house, which, with glaring
doorsteps and a most terrific scraper, seemed to serve all manner of
ejectments upon them. They were as various as labourers—high-shouldered,
wry-necked, one-eyed, goggle-eyed, squinting, bow-legged, knock-kneed,
rheumatic, crazy; some of the small tradesmen’s houses, such as the
crockery shop and the harness-maker’s, had a Cyclops window in the
middle of the gable, within an inch or two of its apex, suggesting that
some forlorn rural Prentice must wriggle himself into that apartment
horizontally, when he retired to rest, after the manner of the worm. So
bountiful in its abundance was the surrounding country, and so lean and
scant the village, that one might have thought the village had sown and
planted everything it once possessed to convert the same into crops.
This would account for the bareness of the little shops, the bareness of
the few boards and trestles designed for market purposes in a corner of
the street, the bareness of the obsolete inn and inn yard, with the
ominous inscription, ‘Excise Office,’ not yet faded out from the
gateway, as indicating the very last thing that poverty could get rid
of….” The village alehouse, mentioned in the first chapter of “Tom
Tiddler’s Ground,” and there called the Peal of Bells, is the White
Hart, Stevenage, where Dickens called on his way to see Lucas to inquire
of the landlord, old Sam Cooper, the shortest route to the “ruined
hermitage of Mr. Mopes the hermit,” some five miles distant. He found
Tom Tiddler’s Ground to be “a nook in a rustic by-road, which the genius
of Mopes had laid waste as completely as if he had been born an Emperor
and a Conqueror. Its centre object was a dwelling-house, sufficiently
substantial, all the window-glass of which had been long ago abolished
by the surprising genius of Mopes, and all the windows of which were
barred across with rough-split logs of trees nailed over them on the
outside. A rick-yard, hip high in vegetable rankness and ruin, contained
out-buildings, from which the thatch had lightly fluttered away … and
from which the planks and beams had heavily dropped and rotted.” After
noting the fragments of mildewed ricks and the slimy pond, the traveller
encountered the hermit himself, as well as he could be observed between
the window-bars, “lying on a bank of soot and cinders, on the floor, in
front of a rusty fireplace,” when presently began the interview with
“the sooty object in blanket and skewer,” as related in the narrative
with approximate exactitude.

“Kent, sir! Everybody knows Kent. Apples, cherries, hops, and women.”
Thus did Alfred Jingle briefly summarize for the behoof of Tracy Tupman
the principal characteristics of the county which, by general consent,
is termed “the Garden of England,” a designation richly merited through
its sylvan charms and other natural beauties.

This division of south-eastern England is rightly considered as the very
heart of Dickens land, for the reason that no other locality (excepting,
of course, the great Metropolis) possesses such numerous associations
with the novelist and his writings. He himself practically admitted as
much when, in 1840, he said: “I have many happy recollections 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.”
It was in Kent, too, where he made his last home and where he drew his
last breath.

As already narrated in the opening chapter of this volume, some of
Dickens’s earliest years were spent at Chatham, and the locality within
the radius of a few miles became familiar to him by means of pedestrian
excursions with his father; indeed, it was during one of these
delightful jaunts that he first saw the house at Gad’s Hill which
subsequently became his own property, and the incident is thus
faithfully recorded (although thinly disguised) in one of “The
Uncommercial Traveller” papers:

“So smooth was the old highroad, and so fresh were the horses, and so
fast went I, that it was midway between Gravesend and Rochester, and the
widening river was bearing the ships, white-sailed or black-smoked, out
to sea, when I noticed by the wayside a very queer small boy.

“‘Halloa!’ said I to the very queer small boy. ‘Where do you live?’

“‘At Chatham,’ says he.

“‘What do you do there?’ says I.

“‘I go to school,’ says he.

“I took him up in a moment, and we went on. Presently the very queer
small boy says: ‘This is Gad’s Hill we are coming to, where Falstaff
went out to rob those travellers, and ran away.’

“‘You know something about Falstaff, eh?’ said I.

“‘All about him,’ said the very queer small boy. ‘I am old (I am nine),
and I read all sorts of books. But _do_ let us stop at the top of the
hill, and look at the house there, if you please.’

“‘You admire that house?’ said I.

“‘Bless you, sir!’ said the very queer small boy, ‘when I was not more
than half as old as nine it used to be a treat for me to be brought to
look at it. And ever since I can recollect my father, seeing me so fond
of it, has often said to me: “If you were to be very persevering, and
were to work hard, you might some day come to live in it,” though that’s
impossible,’ said the very queer small boy, drawing a low breath, and
now staring at the house out of the window with all his might.

“I was rather amazed to be told this by the very queer small boy, for
that house happens to be _my_ house, and I have reason to believe that
what he said was true.”[101]

In another “Uncommercial” paper Dickens recorded his impressions of a
later visit to this neighbourhood: “I will call my boyhood’s home …
Dullborough,” he says, and further observes that he found himself
rambling about the scenes among which his earliest days were
passed—“scenes from which I departed when a child, and which I did not
revisit until I was a man,” when he found the place strangely altered,
for the railway had since disfigured the land. The railway-station “had
swallowed up the playing-field, the two beautiful hawthorn-trees, the
hedge, the turf, and all those buttercups and daisies had given place to
the stoniest of roads; while, beyond the station, an ugly dark monster
of a tunnel kept its jaws open, as if it had swallowed them and were
ravenous for more destruction.” He confesses that he was not made happy
by the disappearance of the old familiar landmarks of his boyhood, but
adds reflectively: “Who was I that I should quarrel with the town for
being so changed to me, when I myself had come back, so changed, to it?
All my early readings and early imaginations dated from this place, and
I took them away so full of innocent construction and guileless belief,
and I brought them back so worn and torn, so much the wiser and so much
the worse.”

In the same paper reference is made to the Dullborough (_i.e._, Chatham)
Mechanics’ Institute—“There had been no such thing in the town in my
young days”—which he found with some difficulty, for the reason that “it
led a modest and retired existence up a stable-yard.” He learned,
however, that it was “a most flourishing institution, and of the highest
benefit to the town, two triumphs which I was glad to understand were
not at all impaired by the seeming drawbacks that no mechanics belonged
to it, and that it was steeped in debt to the chimney-pots. It had a
large room, which was approached by an infirm stepladder, the builder
having declined to construct the intended staircase without a present
payment in cash, which Dullborough (though profoundly appreciative of
the Institution) seemed unaccountably bashful about subscribing.” In aid
of the funds Dickens soon afterwards gave some public Readings in this
very building, with the result that its financial position was
considerably improved.

Dickens’s affection for Kent is indicated by the fact that he selected
that county in which to spend his honeymoon, and in the village of Chalk
(near Gravesend, on the main road to Dover) may still be seen the
cottage where that happy period was spent, and in which he wrote some of
the earlier pages of “Pickwick.”[102] It is a corner house on the
southern side of the road, advantageously situated for commanding views
of the river Thames and the far-stretching landscape beyond. In
after-years, whenever his walks led him to this spot, he invariably
slackened his pace on arriving at the house, and meditatively glanced at
it for a few moments, mentally reviving the time when he and his bride
found a pleasant home within its hospitable walls. Shortly after the
birth of their eldest son, Dickens and his wife stayed at the honeymoon
cottage, which, with its red-tiled roof and dormer windows, is a
picturesque object on this famous coaching road. The walk to Chalk
Church was much favoured by the novelist, where a quaint carved figure
over the entrance porch interested him. This curious piece of sculpture,
which he always greeted with a friendly nod, is supposed to represent an
old priest grasping by the neck a large urn-like vessel, concerning
which there is probably a legend. Another grotesque is seen above, and
between the two is a niche, in which formerly stood an image of the
virgin saint (St. Mary) to whom this thirteenth-century church is
dedicated. About a mile distant, and a little south of the main road, is
Shorne, another typical Kentish village, which, with its church and
burial-ground, constituted for Dickens another source of attraction, and
the latter was probably in his mind when he referred (in “Pickwick”) to
“one of the most peaceful and secluded churchyards in Kent, where
wild-flowers mingle with the grass, and the soft landscape around forms
the fairest spot in the garden of England.” Shorne formerly boasted a
celebrity, one Sir John Shorne, who achieved fame by the curing of ague
and gained notoriety as the custodian of the devil, whom, it is alleged,
he imprisoned in a boot, with the result that shrines were erected to
his memory.[103]

Of the towns in Southern England associated with Dickens, perhaps none
is more replete with memories of the novelist than Broadstairs. It was
but a little Kentish watering-place when, in the autumn of 1837, he and
his wife first passed a seaside holiday there, at No. 12 (now No. 31),
High Street, a humble-looking tenement of two storeys in height, with a
small parlour facing the narrow thoroughfare; the house survived until a
few years ago, although in an altered form, and has since been rebuilt.
In 1890 it was tenanted by a plumber and glazier, who apparently did not
know of its literary associations, for here were written some of the
later pages of “Pickwick.” Formerly of some importance, Broadstairs at
this time had just emerged from the condition of a village into which it
had lapsed, and in 1842 began to attain some celebrity as a place of
fashionable resort for sea-bathing. Dickens delighted in the quietude of
the spot, and Broadstairs became his favourite summer or autumn resort
for many years. In 1839 we find him located at No. 40, Albion Street
(two doors from the Albion Hotel), where he finished the writing of
“Nicholas Nickleby,” and composed the dedication of that story to his
cherished friend Macready. During the following year he went twice to
Broadstairs, being then at work upon “The Old Curiosity Shop,” and in
all probability found a lodgment in the Albion Street house; for,
writing to Maclise the day after his arrival there, on June 1, he urged
him to “come to the bower which is shaded for you in the one-pair front,
where no chair or table has four legs of the same length, and where no
drawers will open till you have pulled the pegs off, and then they keep
open and won’t shut again.” In 1845 and his family engaged rooms for the
month of August at the Albion Hotel, and again, apparently, in 1847,
judging from an allusion to his “looking out upon a dark gray sea, with
a keen north-east wind blowing it in shore.” The Albion was favoured by
him in 1859,[104] when, suffering in health, he went for a week’s sea
air and change, to prepare himself for the exacting labours of a
provincial Reading tour. Dickens delighted to entertain his friends at
the Albion, where, upon one of the walls, hangs an original letter
containing a description of Broadstairs, penned by the novelist himself:

“A good sea—fresh breezes—fine sands—and pleasant walks—with all manner
of fishing-boats, lighthouses, piers, bathing-machines, are its only
attractions; but it is one of the freshest and freest little places in
the world.” Here, too, is jealously preserved an ancient oak chest on
which he was wont to sit while he and his intimates quaffed the old
hostelry’s unrivalled milk-punch.

An amusing description of his mode of life at Broadstairs—of the mild
distractions and innocent pleasures to be enjoyed there—is discoverable
in a characteristic letter addressed by him to Professor Felton from
that watering-place in 1843: “This is a little fishing-place; intensely
quiet; built on a cliff, whereon, in the centre of a tiny semicircular
bay, our house stands, the sea rolling and dashing under the windows.
Seven miles out are the Goodwin Sands (you’ve heard of the Goodwin
Sands?), whence floating lights perpetually wink after dark, as if they
were carrying on intrigues with the servants. Also there is a big
lighthouse called the North Foreland on a hill behind the village—a
severe, parsonic light, which reproves the young and giddy floaters, and
stares grimly out upon the sea. Under the cliff are rare good sands,
where all the children assemble every morning and throw up impossible
fortifications, which the sea throws down again at high-water. Old
gentlemen and ancient ladies flirt after their own manner in two
reading-rooms and on a great many scattered seats in the open air. Other
old gentlemen look all day through telescopes and never see anything. In
a bay-window in a one-pair sits, from nine o’clock to one, a gentleman
with rather long hair and no neckcloth, who writes and grins as if he
thought he were very funny indeed. His name is Boz. At one he
disappears, and presently emerges from a bathing-machine, and may be
seen—a kind of salmon-coloured porpoise—splashing about in the ocean.
After that he may be seen in another bay-window on the ground-floor
eating a strong lunch; after that walking a dozen miles or so, or lying
on his back in the sand reading a book. Nobody bothers him unless they
know he is disposed to be talked to, and I am told he is very
comfortable indeed. He’s as brown as a berry, and they _do_ say is a
small fortune to the innkeeper, who sells beer and cold punch. But this
is mere rumour. Sometimes he goes up to London (eighty miles or so
away), and then, I’m told, there is a sound in Lincoln’s Inn Fields
(Forster’s residence) at night as of men laughing, together with a
clinking of knives and forks and wineglasses.”[105] Again, in 1850: “You
will find it the healthiest and freshest of places, and there are
Canterbury, and all varieties of what Leigh Hunt calls ‘greenery,’
within a few minutes’ railroad ride. It is not very picturesque ashore,
but extremely so seaward, all manner of ships continually passing close
inshore.” Writing to the Earl of Carlisle in 1851, he jocularly said:
“The general character of Broadstairs as to size and accommodation was
happily expressed by Miss Eden, when she wrote to the Duke of Devonshire
(as he told me), saying how grateful she felt to a certain sailor, who
asked leave to see her garden, for not plucking it bodily up and
sticking it in his buttonhole. You will have for a night-light,” he
added, “in the room we shall give you, the North Foreland lighthouse.
That and the sea and air are our only lions. It is a rough little place,
but a very pleasant one, and you will make it pleasanter than ever to
me.”[106] To Forster at this time he remarked of his Broadstairs
environment: “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!” One of his minor writings is wholly devoted to a
description of “Our Watering-Place” (for so the paper is entitled), in
which there are many happy touches recalling Broadstairs of more than
fifty years ago. Here is the beach as seen at low tide: “The ocean lies
winking in the sunlight like a drowsy lion; its glassy waters scarcely
curve upon the shore; the fishing-boats in the tiny harbour are all
stranded in the mud. Our two colliers … have not an inch of water
within a quarter of a mile of them, and turn exhausted on their sides,
like faint fish of an antediluvian species. Rusty cables and chains,
ropes and rings, undermost parts of posts and piles, and confused timber
defences against the waves, lie strewn about in a brown litter of
tangled seaweed and fallen cliff…. The time when this pretty little
semicircular sweep of houses, tapering off at the end of the wooden pier
into a point in the sea, was a gay place, and when the lighthouse
overlooking it shone at daybreak on company dispersing from public
balls, is but dimly traditional now.” The following depicts, with the
skill of a master hand, the same scene at high-water: “The tide has
risen; the boats are dancing on the bubbling water; the colliers are
afloat again; the white-bordered waves rush in…. The radiant sails are
gliding past the shore and shining on the far horizon; all the sea is
sparkling, heaving, swelling up with life and beauty this bright
morning.” To the parish church the author refers disrespectfully as “a
hideous temple of flint, like a great petrified haystack,” and of the
pier, built in 1809, he says: “We have a pier—a queer old wooden pier,
fortunately—without the slightest pretensions to architecture, and very
picturesque in consequence. Boats are hauled up upon it, ropes are
coiled all over it; lobster-pots, nets, masts, oars, spars, sails,
ballast, and rickety capstans, make a perfect labyrinth of it.” In the
same paper he observes: “You would hardly guess which is the main street
of our watering-place,[107] but you may know it by its being always
stopped up with donkey-chaises. Whenever you come here, and see
harnessed donkeys eating clover out of barrows drawn completely across a
narrow thoroughfare, you may be quite sure you are in our High
Street.”[108] The reference here to donkeys prompts the statement that
at Broadstairs lived the original of Betsy Trotwood in “David
Copperfield.” She was a Miss Strong, who occupied a double-fronted
cottage in the middle of Nuckell’s Place, on the sea-front, and who,
like the admirable Betsy, was firmly convinced of her right to stop the
passage of donkeys along the road opposite her door, deterring their
proprietors by means of hostile demonstrations with a hearth-broom.
Close by there is a cottage which has been christened Dickens House, and
in Broadstairs there is a Dickens Road.

Tired of the discomforts of seaside lodgings, Dickens began to search
for a house at Broadstairs which he could hire for the period of his
annual visits. He discovered in Fort House a residence that seemed to
fulfil his requirements; but it was not yet available, and he was fain
to content himself for a while with Lawn House, a smaller villa, the
garden of which adjoins the western boundary of the grounds of Fort
House. Abutting upon the south side of Lawn House, whence a good view of
the German Ocean is obtainable, is the archway referred to in one of the
published letters,[109] spanning the narrow road approached from Harbour
Street and leading to the coastguard station, this road passing the
front of Fort House between it and the sea-wall. Not until the autumn of
1850 did he succeed in obtaining possession of Fort House, situated on
the Kingsgate Road, perched upon the summit of a bold headland of the
Thanet cliffs, with a superb panorama of sea and country. At that time
there was a cornfield between the house and the harbour. Alas! a
cornfield no longer, but land upon which some cottages and stables have
since been built, these partly obstructing the view southward.

Fort House, to which were attached pleasure grounds of about an acre in
extent, was approached by a carriage drive, and the rental value in 1883
was £100 a year. This “airy nest” (as he described his Broadstairs home)
formed a conspicuous landmark in the locality, and proved a constant
source of attraction to visitors by reason of its associations. Edmund
Yates thus describes it as seen by him at a subsequent period: “It is a
small house without any large rooms, but such a place as a man of
moderate means, with an immoderate family of small children, might
choose for a summer retreat. The sands immediately below afford a
splendid playground; there is an abundant supply of never-failing ozone;
there is a good lawn, surrounded by borders well-stocked with
delicious-smelling common English flowers, and there is, or was in those
days, I imagine, ample opportunity for necessary seclusion. The room in
which Dickens worked is on the first floor, a small, three-cornered
slip, ‘about the size of a warm bath,’ as he would have said, but with a
large expansive window commanding a magnificent sea-view. His love for
the place, and his gratitude for the good it always did him, are
recorded in a hundred letters.” In 1889 the late Mr. W. R. Hughes and
the present writer were privileged to examine Fort House, and our
impressions have been duly recorded. We approached the study by a little
staircase leading from the first floor, and from the veranda-shaded
window witnessed a lovely view of the sea. Perhaps it was nothing more
than coincidence, but Dickens seemed to prefer, as places of residence,
houses having semicircular frontages, and Fort House proved no
exception, his study being in the bowed front facing the ocean. Here he
wrote the concluding lines of what the author himself regarded as the
best of all his books, “David Copperfield.” Let it be distinctly averred
that not a line of “Bleak House” was penned in this abode (as is
generally supposed), and that it is quite an erroneous idea to associate
Fort House with the home of Mr. Jarndyce, so minutely described in that
story. This being the case, it is unfortunate that a later owner of the
property committed the indiscretion of changing the name of the building
to Bleak House, by which misleading designation it has been known for a
considerable period.

After a good many years of disuse, Bleak House fell into a lamentable
state of decay, and it is much to be deplored that the local authorities
did not avail themselves of the opportunity afforded them of acquiring
(for the sake of preservation) the residence which so frequently became
the favourite seaside dwelling of the genius of the place. They,
however, did not rise to the occasion, with the result that, in
consequence of remaining so long uninhabited, the house suffered
seriously from dilapidation, and the garden (containing the old swing
where the novelist used to swing his children) became a wilderness of
weeds. Recently the property was sold, and the owner thought fit to
restore, alter, and extend the premises, converting the building into a
pretentious-looking mansion of Tudor design, with castellated eaves and
other “improvements,” by which it is changed beyond all recognition.

In 1847 Broadstairs commenced to grow out of favour with the novelist,
for it then began to attract large numbers of holiday folks, with an
attendant train of outdoor entertainers, who deprived him of that
quietude and seclusion so indispensable for his work. “Vagrant music is
getting to that height here,” he said, “and is so impossible to be
escaped from, that I fear Broadstairs and I must part company in time to
come. Unless it pours of rain, I cannot write half an hour without the
most excruciating organs, fiddles, bells, or glee-singers. There is a
violin of the most torturing kind under the window now (time, ten in the
morning), and an Italian box of music on the steps, both in full blast.”
Dickens did not desert the town just yet, however, as in 1851 (in order
to escape the excitement in London caused by the Great Exhibition) he
decided to let the town house (Devonshire Terrace) for a few months, and
engaged Fort House from the beginning of May until November, his longest
sojourn at Broadstairs. This was not the last visit (as stated in a note
in the published “Letters”), as he spent a week there in the summer of
1859 for sea air and change, thus to assist recovery from a slight
illness, and prepare for the severe ordeal of a provincial Reading tour.
After 1859 Broadstairs knew him no more, although we are assured that he
ever retained an affectionate interest in that “pretty little
watering-place.” Mr. Hughes has recorded an interview with an “old
salt,” one Harry Ford, who well remembered the novelist when, in early
days, he (Dickens) went with his family to stay at Broadstairs. “Bless
your soul!” he said, “I can see ‘Old Charley’ (as we used to call him
among ourselves here) a-coming flying down from the cliff with a hop,
step, and jump, with his hair all flying about. He used to sit sometimes
on that rail”—pointing to the one surrounding the harbour—“with his legs
lolling about, and sometimes on the seat that you’re a-sitting on now”
(adjoining the old look-out house opposite the Tartar Frigate Inn), “and
he was very fond of talking to us fellows and hearing our tales; he was
very good-natured, and nobody was liked better. And if you’ll read that
story that he wrote and printed about ‘Our Watering-Place,’ _I_ was the
man who’s mentioned there as mending a little ship for a boy. _I_ held
that child between my knees. And, what’s more, _I_ took ‘Old Charley,’
on the very last time that he came over to Broadstairs (he wasn’t living
here at the time), round the Foreland to Margate, with a party of four
friends. I took ’em in my boat, the _Irene_”—pointing to a
clinker-built, strong boat lying in the harbour, capable of holding
twenty people. “The wind was easterly, the weather was rather rough, and
it took me three or four hours to get round. There was a good deal of
chaffing going on, I can tell you.”[110]

Of the neighbouring watering-place, Margate, but little can be said from
the Dickensian point of view, for the novelist visited it so seldom,
probably not more than twice—viz., in 1844 and 1847, writing thence on
both occasions to Forster with particular reference to the theatre
there, which he honoured with his patronage. In this respect Dover comes
within the same category, for he said, in 1852: “It is not quite a place
to my taste, being too bandy (I mean musical; no reference to its legs),
and infinitely too genteel. But the sea is very fine, and the walks are
quite remarkable. There are two ways of going to Folkestone, both lovely
and striking in the highest degree, and there are heights and downs and
country roads, and I don’t know what, everywhere.” Mention is frequently
made of Dover in his books—of its castle, pier, cliffs, harbour,
theatre, etc.; the latter, built in 1790, he described in 1856 as “a
miserable spectacle—the pit is boarded over, and it is a drinking and
smoking place.” Here is a pen-picture of the fortified town from “A Tale
of Two Cities,” as it appeared more than a century ago: “The little
narrow, crooked town of Dover hid 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.
The air among the houses was of so strong a piscatory flavour that one
might have supposed sick fish went up to be dipped in it, as sick people
went down to be dipped in the sea. 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
realized large fortunes, and it was remarkable that nobody in the
neighbourhood could endure a lamp-lighter.” In “The Uncommercial
Traveller,” too, we find this pleasing fancy in alluding to Dover:
“There the sea was tumbling in, with deep sounds, after dark, and the
revolving French light on Cape Grisnez was seen regularly bursting out
and becoming obscured, as if the head of a gigantic lightkeeper, in an
anxious state of mind, were interposed every half-minute, to look how it
was burning.”

Dover, as everyone remembers, was the destination of poor little ragged
David Copperfield, who, tramping wearily from London, went thither in
quest of his aunt, Betsy Trotwood. In 1852 Dickens stayed for three
months at No. 10, Camden Crescent, and in 1861 he took apartments at the
Lord Warden Hotel.

The autumn of 1855 was spent by Dickens and his family at No. 3, Albion
Villas, Folkestone, “a very pleasant little house overlooking the sea,”
whither he went, on the eve of the publication of “Little Dorrit,” to
“help his sluggish fancy.” In “Reprinted Pieces” we find Folkestone
disguised as “Pavilionstone,” thus named after the Pavilion Hotel,
originally a modest-looking building erected on the sea-front in 1843,
but recently transformed into a huge establishment in order to meet the
requirements of modern-day travellers _en route_ to and from Boulogne.
Even at the time this article was written,[111] the hotel is described
as containing “streets of rooms” and handsome salons. Folkestone of
to-day differs considerably from Folkestone of fifty years ago, having
developed during the interval into a fashionable watering-place of an
almost resplendent character. Nevertheless, in Dickens’s presentment it
is not impossible, even now, to detect the tone and colouring of old
Folkestone, with its “crooked street like a crippled ladder,” etc.
“Within a quarter of a century—_circa_ 1830,” Dickens remarks, “it was a
little fishing town, and they do say that the time was when it was a
little smuggling town…. The old little fishing and smuggling town
remains…. There are break-neck flights of ragged steps, connecting the
principal streets by back-ways, which will cripple the visitor in half
an hour…. In connection with these break-neck steps I observe some
wooden cottages, with tumbledown outhouses, and backyards 3 feet square,
adorned with garlands of dried fish…. Our situation is delightful, our
air delicious, and our breezy hills and downs, carpeted with wild thyme,
and decorated with millions of wild flowers, are, in the faith of the
pedestrian, perfect.” He informs us that the harbour is a tidal one—“At
low water we are a heap of mud, with an empty channel in it”—and
delineates, with the sense of a keen observer, the effects of high and
low tide upon the shipping, while the following is a typical example of
Dickensian humour: “The very little wooden lighthouse shrinks in the
idle glare of the sun. And here I may observe of the very little wooden
lighthouse, that when it is lighted at night—red and green—it looks so
like a medical man’s, that several distracted husbands have at various
times been found, on occasions of premature domestic anxiety, going
round it, trying to find the night-bell!”[112]

Strange to relate, Maidstone, the county town, is mentioned only twice
in Dickens’s writings—namely, in “David Copperfield” and “The Seven Poor
Travellers”; but there is a hint of his intention to give more
prominence to it in “Edwin Drood” by making the county gaol the scene of
Jasper’s imprisonment. It is conjectured that Maidstone is the Muggleton
of “Pickwick,” there described as “a corporate town, with a mayor,
burgesses, and freemen,” with “an open square for the market-place, and
in the centre a large inn,” etc. That he knew the locality well, even at
this date, there can be no doubt—indeed, it has been suggested that
those remarkable Druidical stones near by, known as Kit’s Coty House,
with names, initials, and dates scratched thereon, may have originated
the idea of Mr. Pickwick’s immortal discovery of the stone inscribed by
“Bill Stumps.” Another Pickwickian link with the neighbourhood is
Cob-tree Hall, an Elizabethan house near Aylesford, justly regarded as
the original of the Manor House at Dingley Dell, which, with its
surroundings, answers admirably to the description in the fourth chapter
of “Pickwick.”

We know that in later years he was fond of walking between Maidstone and
Rochester, the seven miles constituting, in his opinion, “one of the
most beautiful walks in England”; and not infrequently, when living at
Gad’s Hill, he would drive there with friends for a picnic, the horses
bestridden by “a couple of postillions in the old red jackets of the old
red royal Dover road.” “It was like a holiday ride in England fifty
years ago,” he said to Longfellow, commenting upon one of these
delightful excursions. Pilgrims in Dickens land would do well to visit
Kit’s Coty House and Blue Bell Hill, where, from the higher elevations,
a prospect is revealed of enchanting beauty; from such a point of
vantage we behold an extensive view of the valley, in which are seen
little hamlets, cornfields, hop gardens, orchards, and spinneys, with
the river Medway meandering in the direction of Rochester, and gradually
widening as it approaches that ancient town.

The picturesque and charming city of Canterbury, as portrayed in “David
Copperfield,” has changed in a much less degree than many other English
cathedral towns within the last twenty years or so. In that delightful
story, so replete with the autobiographical element, we read: “The sunny
street of Canterbury, dozing, as it were, in the hot light; … its old
houses and gateways, and the stately gray cathedral, with the rooks
sailing round the towers” (chap. xiii.). “Coming into Canterbury, I
loitered through the old streets with a sober pleasure that calmed my
spirits and eased my heart…. The venerable cathedral towers and the
old jackdaws and rooks, whose airy voices made them more retired than
perfect silence would have done; the battered gateways, once stuck full
with statues, long thrown down, and crumbled away, like the reverential
pilgrims who had gazed upon them; the still nooks, where the ivied
growth of centuries crept over gabled ends and ruined walls; the ancient
houses; the pastoral landscape of field, orchard, and garden—everywhere,
on everything, I felt the same serener air, the same calm, thoughtful,
softening spirit” (chap. xxxix.). In 1861, when giving a public Reading
at Canterbury, Dickens stayed at the Fountain Hotel, in St. Margaret’s
Street, which is recognised locally as “the County Inn” where Mr. Dick
slept when visiting David Copperfield. The “little inn” where Mr.
Micawber put up is probably the Sun Hotel in Sun Street; Dr. Strong’s
school is the still-flourishing King’s School in the cathedral
precincts, its Norman staircase being an object of great antiquarian

About midway between Gravesend and Rochester, on the old Dover Road, and
in the parish of Higham, is Gad’s Hill, immortalized both by Shakespeare
and Dickens. With regard to the derivation of the name there seems to be
a little doubt, some regarding it as a corruption of “God’s Hill,” while
others incline to the belief that it must be traced to the word “gad”
(_i.e._, rogue), for, even prior to Shakespeare’s time, unwary
travellers were here waylaid by highwaymen, and for such audacious
thefts from the person this particular spot became notorious.

In 1558 a ballad was published entitled “The Robbery at Gad’s Hill,” and
in 1590 Sir Roger Manwood, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, wrote: “Many
robberies were done in the bye-ways at Gadeshill, on the west part of
Rochester and at Chatham, down on the east part of Rochester, by
horse-thieves, with such fat and lusty horses as were not like hackney
horses, nor far-journeying horses, and one of them sometimes wearing a
vizard grey beard … and no man durst travel that way without great
company.” In the first part of Shakespeare’s “King Henry the Fourth”
(Act I., Scene 2) Poins thus addresses Prince Henry: “But, my lads, my
lads, to-morrow morning, by four o’clock, early at Gadshill! there are
pilgrims going to Canterbury with rich offerings, and traders riding to
London with fat purses: I have visors for you all; you have horses for

To present-day pedestrians, who have no need to fear unwelcome
attentions from “knights of the road,” the chief attraction of this
locality is the house which stands upon the brow of the hill, reposing
in delightful grounds, and commanding magnificent views of the
surrounding landscape. This is Gad’s Hill Place, the home of Charles
Dickens, where he resided from 1856 until his death on “that fateful
day” in June, 1870. One of the most remarkable incidents of the
novelist’s life was the realization of his boyhood’s ambition to live
there, in the very house which he so often admired when, during his
early years at Chatham, he accompanied his father on walking expeditions
thence to Strood and beyond, and which, as his parent foretold, might
really become his home if he worked hard, and were to be very
persevering. The desire to own the property never left him; indeed, it
may be said that, as time passed, his craving to possess it increased,
and we may imagine his delight when, in 1855, he learned from his trusty
henchman, W. H. Wills, that the place was available for purchase.

Having spent the final years of his active career at Gad’s Hill Place,
it is natural that Gad’s Hill Place and its environment should be
regarded as the very heart of Dickens land, so replete is it with
Dickensian memories and associations.

Gad’s Hill Place is a red brick building, with bay windows and a porch
in the principal front, a slated roof with dormers, surmounted by a
cupola or bell-turret, the latter a conspicuous and familiar object to
all accustomed to travel by road between Gravesend and Rochester. The
house was erected in 1779 by a then well-known character in those parts,
one Thomas Stevens, an illiterate man who had been an hostler, and who,
after marrying his employer’s widow, adopted the brewing business,
amassed wealth, and eventually became Mayor of Rochester. On
relinquishing the business he retired to his country seat at Gad’s Hill,
and at his death the house was purchased by the Rev. James Lynn (father
of the late Mrs. Lynn Linton, the authoress), who, like Dickens, had
fallen in love with the house when a youth, and resolved to buy it as
soon as the opportunity offered. It was not until 1831 that he was
enabled to take up his residence there, and Mrs. Lynn Linton, in
recording her impressions of her home at that date, recalled the
liveliness of the road: “Between seventy and eighty coaches, ‘vans,’ and
mail-carts passed our house during the day, besides private carriages,
specially those of travellers posting to or from Dover. Regiments, too,
often passed on their way to Gravesend, where they embarked for India;
and ships’ companies, paid off, rowdy, and half-tipsy, made the road
really dangerous for the time being. We used to lock the two gates when
we heard them coming, shouting and singing, up the hill, and we had to
stand many a mimic siege from the bluejackets trying to force their way
in.”[114] To counteract these obvious drawbacks there were natural
advantages—the luxuriant gardens, orchard, and shrubberies, while the
trees near the house offered a veritable sanctuary for song-birds. The
worthy clergyman occupied Gad’s Hill Place until his decease in 1855,
when, for want of an heir, the property had to be sold. Shortly
afterwards his daughter and W. H. Wills met at a dinner-party, and in
the course of conversation it transpired that the estate would presently
be in the market. On learning this, Dickens immediately entered into
negotiations for acquiring it, with the result that before many months
had elapsed he became the owner. “I have always in passing looked to see
if it was to be sold or let,” he wrote to his friend M. de Cerjat, “and
it has never been to me like any other house, and it has never changed
at all.”

[Illustration: RESTORATION HOUSE, ROCHESTER. (_Page 217._)
The “Satis House” of “Great Expectations.” Charles II. slept here on
the eve of the Restoration, May, 1660.]

After drawing a cheque (on March 14, 1856) for the amount of the
purchase-money, £1,790, he discovered that, by an extraordinary
coincidence, it was a Friday, the day of the week on which (as he
frequently remarked) all the important events of his life had happened,
so that he and his family had come to regard that day of the week as his
lucky day.

Dickens did not, however, obtain possession of the coveted house until
February of the following year, after which, for a brief period, he made
it merely a summer abode, Tavistock House being his town residence
during the rest of the year. In April, 1857, he stayed with his wife and
sister-in-law at Waite’s Hotel, Gravesend, to be at hand to superintend
the beginning of a scheme of alterations and improvements in his new
home, which were carried on for the space of several months. The winter
of 1859-1860 was the last spent at Tavistock House, and he and his
family then settled down at Gad’s Hill. “I am on my little Kentish
freehold,” he observed to M. de Cerjat, “looking on as pretty a view out
of my study window as you will find in a long day’s English ride. My
little place is a grave red-brick house, which I have added to and stuck
bits upon in all manner of ways, so that it is as pleasantly irregular,
and as violently opposed to all architectural ideas, as the most hopeful
man could possibly desire. The robbery was committed before the door, on
the man with the treasure, and Falstaff ran away from the identical spot
of ground now covered by the room in which I write. A little rustic
alehouse, called the Sir John Falstaff, is over the way, has been over
the way ever since, in honour of the event. Cobham Woods and Park are
behind the house, the distant Thames in front, the Medway, with
Rochester and its old castle and cathedral, on one side. The whole
stupendous property is on the old Dover Road.”

Continued ownership brought increased liking, and he was never tired of
devising and superintending improvements, such as the addition of a new
drawing-room and conservatory, the construction of a well (a process
“like putting Oxford Street endwise”), and the engineering of a tunnel
under the road, connecting the front-garden with the shrubbery, with its
noble cedars, where, in the midst of foliage, was erected the Swiss
châlet presented to him in 1865 by Fechter, the actor, and which now
stands in Cobham Park. Concerning this châlet—in an upper compartment of
which he was fond of working, remote from disturbing sounds—he sent a
charming account of his environment to his American friend James T.
Fields: “Divers birds sing here all day, and the nightingales all night.
The place is lovely and in perfect order…. I have put five mirrors in
the chalet where I write, and they reflect and refract, in all kinds of
ways, the leaves that are quivering at the windows, and the great fields
of waving corn, and the sail-dotted river. My room is up among the
branches of the trees, and the birds and the butterflies fly in and out,
and the green branches shoot in at the open windows, and the lights and
shadows of the clouds come and go with the rest of the company. The
scent of the flowers, and, indeed, of everything that is growing for
miles and miles, is most delicious.”

[Illustration: THE BULL HOTEL, ROCHESTER. (_Page 219._)
“Good house—nice beds” (“Pickwick”).]

Externally, the main building of Gad’s Hill Place underwent but little
alteration, presenting throughout the period of the owner’s occupation
much the same appearance as when he knew it in the days of his
childhood, the back of the building becoming gradually hidden from view
by clustering masses of ivy and Virginia creeper. One of the bedrooms
was transformed into a study, which he lined with books and occasionally
wrote in; but the study proper (called by him the library) was the front
room on the ground-floor, on the right of the entrance-hall, rendered
familiar by the large engraving published in the _Graphic_ at the time
of the novelist’s death. With regard to this study, or library, it may
be mentioned that it was his delight to be surrounded by a variety of
objects for his eye to rest upon in the intervals of actual writing,
prominent among them being a bronze group representing a couple of frogs
in the act of fighting a duel with swords, and a statuette of a French
dog-fancier, with his living stock-in-trade tucked under his arms and in
his pockets, while a vase of flowers invariably graced his
writing-table. A noteworthy feature of his sanctum was the door, the
inner side of which he disguised by means of imitation book-backs,
transferred thither from Tavistock House; these are still preserved as a
“fixture.” These book-backs, with their humorous titles, create
considerable interest and amusement for such as are privileged to enter
the apartment so intimately associated with “Boz.”

Among those invited to his attractive “Kentish freehold,” as Dickens
frequently termed it, “where cigars and lemons grew on all the trees,”
was Sir Joseph Paxton, the famous landscape gardener and designer of the
Crystal Palace. Hans Andersen, another honoured guest, received most
agreeable impressions of Gad’s Hill Place. He described the
breakfast-room as “a model of comfort and holiday brightness. The
windows were overhung, outside, with a profusion of blooming roses, and
one looked out over the garden to green fields and the hills beyond
Rochester.” Dickens’s happiest hours in his Gad’s Hill home were those
when it was filled with cherished friends, both English and American, to
whom he played the part of an ideal host, devoting the greater portion
of each day to their comfort and amusement, and accompanying them on
pedestrian excursions to Rochester and other favourite localities in the
neighbourhood, or driving with them to more remote places, such as
Maidstone and Canterbury. But what seemed to afford him the utmost
delight were the walks with friends to the charming village of Cobham,
there to refresh at the famous Leather Bottle, the quaint roadside
alehouse where, as every reader of “Pickwick” remembers, the
disconsolate Mr. Tupman was discovered at the parlour table having just
enjoyed a hearty meal of “roast fowl, bacon, ale, and etceteras, and
looking as unlike a man who had taken his leave of the world as
possible.” The Pickwickian traditions of this popular house of
refreshment are maintained by the enthusiastic landlord, who realizes
the importance of preserving the Dickensian associations. The room in
which Mr. Tupman drowned his sorrows in the comfort afforded by a
substantial meal remains practically the same to-day, with this
difference, that the walls are covered with portraits, engravings,
autograph letters, and other interesting items relating to the novelist
and his writings—a veritable Dickens museum. Cobham Hall, the
Elizabethan mansion of Lord Darnley, with its magnificent park, where
the Fechter châlet was re-erected after Dickens’s death, and especially
Cobham Woods, always proved irresistible attractions to the “Master,”
and he and his dogs enjoying their constitutional were a familiar sight
to his neighbours.

The villages of Shorne and Chalk, with their ancient churches and
peaceful churchyards, he frequently visited with “a strange recurring
fondness.” Mr. E. Laman Blanchard has recorded that he often met, and
exchanged salutations with, Dickens during his pedestrian excursions on
the highroad leading from Rochester to Gravesend, and generally they
passed each other at about the same spot—at the outskirts of the village
of Chalk, where a picturesque lane branched off towards Shorne and
Cobham. “Here,” says Mr. Blanchard, “the brisk walk of Charles Dickens
was always slackened, and he never failed to glance meditatively for a
few moments at the windows of a corner house on the southern side of the
road, advantageously situated for commanding views of the river and the
far-stretching landscape beyond. It was in that house he lived
immediately after his marriage, and there many of the earlier chapters
of ‘Pickwick’ were written.”

The village of Cooling, standing so bleak and solitary in the Kentish
fenland bordering the southern banks of the Thames, possessed a weird
fascination for “Boz.” Here, in the midst of those dreary marshes, much
of the local colouring of “Great Expectations” was obtained. Indeed, the
story opens with the night scene between Pip and the escaped convict in
Cooling churchyard, and in the same chapter we have Pip’s early
impressions of the strange and desolate neighbourhood in which he lived
with Mr. and Mrs. Joe Gargery. “Ours was the marsh country, down by the
river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles from the sea. My first
most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things seems to me to
have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a
time I found out for certain that this bleak place overgrown with
nettles was the churchyard, and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish,
and also Georgina, wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that
Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of
the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark, flat
wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes, and mounds,
and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and
that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant
savage lair, from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the
small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all, and beginning to cry,
was Pip.”

“The marshes,” Pip continues, “were just a long black horizontal line
then, … and the river was just another horizontal line, not nearly so
broad nor yet so black; and the sky was just a row of long angry red
lines and dense black lines intermixed. On the edge of the river I could
faintly make out the only two black things in all the prospect that
seemed to be standing upright. One of these was the beacon by which the
sailors steered—like an unhooped cask upon a pole—an ugly thing when you
were near it; the other, a gibbet, with some chains hanging to it which
had once held a pirate.” Then, in a later chapter, he refers to the old
battery out on the marshes. “It was pleasant and quiet out there,” he
says, “with the sails on the river passing beyond the earthwork, and
sometimes, when the tide was low, looking as if they belonged to sunken
ships that were still sailing on at the bottom of the water.”

Visitors to Cooling cannot fail to notice in the churchyard a long row
of curious gravestones which mark the resting-place of members of the
Comport family of Cowling Court (Cooling was originally called Cowling),
these memorials dating from 1771, the year recorded on a large headstone
standing in close proximity. These suggested to Dickens, of course, the
idea of the “five little stone lozenges” under which the five little
brothers of Pip lay buried. Within a short distance from the churchyard
we may identify, in a short row of cottages, the original of Joe’s
forge, while an old-fashioned inn with a weather-board exterior, and
bearing the sign of the Horseshoe and Castle, is regarded as the
prototype of the Three Jolly Bargemen, a favourite resort of Joe Gargery
after his day’s work at the forge.

The ancient and picturesque city of Rochester, so beloved by Dickens and
so replete with memories of the “Master,” deserves a chapter to itself.
With the exception of London, no town figures so frequently or so
prominently in his books as Rochester, from “The Pickwick Papers” to the
unfinished romance of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” where it is thinly
disguised as “Cloisterham.” Dickens’s acquaintance with Rochester began
in the days of his boyhood, when he lived with his father at Chatham,
and, as a natural result of his unusual powers of observation, he even
then stored up his youthful impressions of the quaint old houses, the
Cathedral, and its neighbour, the rugged ruins of the Norman Castle
overlooking the Medway. How those juvenile impressions received
something of a shock in after-years we are informed by Forster, for
childhood exaggerates what it sees, and Rochester High Street he
remembered as a thoroughfare at least as wide as Regent Street, whereas
it proved to his maturer judgment to be “little better than a lane,”
while the public clock in it, once supposed by him to be the finest
clock in the world, proved eventually to be “as moon-faced and weak a
clock as a man’s eyes ever saw.” Even the grave-looking Town Hall,
“which had appeared to him once so glorious a structure” that he
associated it in his mind with Aladdin’s palace, he reluctantly realized
as being, in reality, nothing more than “a mere mean little heap of
bricks, like a chapel gone demented.” “Ah! who was I,” he observes on
reflection, “that I should quarrel with the town for being changed to
me, when I myself had come back, so changed, to it? All my early
readings and early imaginations dated from this place, and I took them
away so full of innocent construction and guileless belief, and I
brought them back so worn and torn, so much the wiser and so much the

Rochester has undergone many topographical changes (not necessarily for
the better) since that memorable morning in 1827 when Mr. Pickwick
leaned over the balustrades of the old stone bridge “contemplating
nature and waiting for breakfast.” To begin with, the bridge itself has
been demolished, and an elliptical iron structure takes its place. The
view, too, which Mr. Pickwick admired of the banks of the Medway, with
the cornfields, pastures, and windmills, is more obscured to-day by that
discomforting symbol of commercialism, smoke, so constantly pouring from
the ever-increasing number of lofty shafts appertaining to the various
cement works which flourish here. From the other side of the bridge Mr.
Pickwick could obtain a pleasant glimpse of the river, with its numerous
sailing-barges, in the direction of Chatham; but the prospect, alas! is
now completely blotted out by hideous railway viaducts. Happily, in
spite of modern innovations, those who appreciate the old-world air of
our English cities will find much to charm them in the precincts of the
Cathedral, sufficiently remote from the bustle and noise of the High
Street to enable it to preserve the quiet serenity which invariably
encompasses our venerable minsters. Besides the picturesque stone
gateways here, much remains in the High Street and elsewhere to remind
us of what Rochester looked like in days of old; as Dickens writes in
“The Seven Poor Travellers”: “The silent High Street of Rochester is
full of gables, with old beams and timbers carved into strange faces.”
Of these surviving specimens of ancient domestic architecture, many will
regard Eastgate House as the most interesting from an archæological
point of view, while to the Dickens student there is an additional
attraction in the fact that it is the original of the Nuns’ House in
“Edwin Drood,” the boarding-school for young ladies over which Miss
Twinkleton presided, and where Rosa Bud received her education.

For many years during the last century Eastgate House was actually in
use as a ladies’ school, and eventually became the headquarters of the
Rochester Men’s Institute. Quite recently the civic authorities, with
commendable good sense, availed themselves of the opportunity of
acquiring the property, which they have thoroughly and tastefully
reinstated and converted into a public museum; and I must add to this
statement the significant fact that a room has been permanently set
apart for an exhibition of mementoes of Charles Dickens—both gifts and
loans—thus, in a sense, stultifying the old proverb, that “a prophet is
not without honour save in his own country.” On one of the inside beams
of Eastgate House is carved the date “1591,” and the rooms are adorned
with carved mantelpieces and plaster enrichments.

[Illustration: CHARLES DICKENS IN 1868.
_From a Photograph by Mason. Reproduced by kind permission of
Messrs. Chapman and Hall._]

Nearly opposite Eastgate House is another picturesque half-timbered
building, which, with its three gables and its projecting bay-windows
supported by carved brackets, is a veritable ornament to this portion of
the High Street. We recognise it as the one-time residence of two of
Dickens’s characters, viz., of Mr. Sapsea, the auctioneer in “Edwin
Drood”—“Mr. Sapsea’s premises are in the High Street over against the
Nuns’ House”—and of Mr. Pumblechook, the seed merchant in “Great
Expectations.” But there exists in Rochester a specimen of domestic
architecture of even greater interest than those just described. This is
Restoration House, pleasantly situated facing an open space called “The
Vines”—the Monks’ Vineyard of “Edwin Drood.” Restoration House is the
Satis House of “Great Expectations,” where lived that strange creature
Miss Havisham; as a matter of fact, there exists in Rochester an actual
Satis House, the name being transferred by Dickens to the old
manor-house associated with Pip and Estella, and with that “immensely
rich and grim lady” the aforesaid Miss Havisham. Restoration House,
which dates from Elizabeth’s reign, afforded temporary lodging to
Charles II. in 1660, who subsequently honoured his host, Sir Francis
Clarke, with a series of large tapestries of English workmanship, which
are still preserved.

In Rochester High Street the visitor cannot fail to observe, on the
north side, a stone-fronted building with three gables, having over the
entrance-gate a curiously inscribed tablet, which reads thus:

Richard Watts, Esquire,
by his Will dated 22nd August, 1579,
founded this Charity
for Six Poor Travellers,
who, not being Rogues or Proctors,
May receive gratis for one Night
Lodging, Entertainment,
and Fourpence each.

This quaint institution, founded by Master Richard Watts, Rochester’s
sixteenth-century philanthropist, still flourishes, and it is an
exceptional thing for a night to pass without its full complement of
applicants for temporary board and lodging, according to the terms
formulated by the charitable founder, by whom also were established
several almshouses situated on the Maidstone Road, endowed for the
support and maintenance of impoverished Rochester townsfolk. Watts’s
Charity, in the High Street, is immortalized by Dickens in the Christmas
number of _Household Words_, 1854, entitled “The Seven Poor Travellers,”
in which the story of Richard Doubledick is one of the most touching
things the novelist ever penned. Dickens, doubtless, frequently visited
the Charity during his Gad’s Hill days, for he delighted in escorting
his American friends and others around the old city, and pointing out to
them its more striking features. In one of the visitors’ books, in which
many distinguished names are recorded, will be found (under date May 11,
1854, the year of publication of the above-mentioned Christmas number)
the bold autographs of Charles Dickens and his friend Mark Lemon.

An account of Dickensian Rochester which omitted to mention the Bull Inn
would be unpardonably incomplete. The Bull, the historic Bull of “The
Pickwick Papers,” which the imperturbable Mr. Jingle averred to Mr.
Pickwick was a “good house” with “nice beds,” is naturally one of the
principal sights of Rochester from the point of view of the Dickens
admirer and student, and Dickens pilgrims from all parts of the world
immediately direct their steps thither on their arrival in the city.
Situated on the south side of the High Street, within a short distance
of Rochester Bridge, the Bull and Victoria Hotel (to give its full
designation) has an exceedingly unprepossessing brick frontage, its only
decorative feature being the Royal Arms over the entrance. Why does the
famous coaching-inn bear the double sign of the Bull and _Victoria_? It
originated in this way: One stormy day at the end of November, 1836, the
late Queen Victoria (then Princess), with her mother the Duchess of
Kent, stopped at the Bull; they were travelling to London from Dover,
and the royal party, warned of the possibility of their carriage being
upset in crossing the bridge, stayed at the hostelry all night, the
apartment in which England’s future Sovereign slept being the identical
room previously allocated to Mr. Tupman in “Pickwick.” Naturally, in
order to commemorate the royal visit, the inn was called by its present
designation, although popularly known simply as the Bull. Some portions
of the establishment still retain their old-world characteristics,
although it must be confessed that the appearance of the majority of the
dormitories and living-rooms partakes more of the early Victorian period
than of an earlier date; one might conjecture, too, that the house had
been refronted during the beginning of the nineteenth century. The place
is replete with Pickwickian associations; here we may see the veritable
staircase where the stormy interview occurred between the irate Dr.
Slammer and Alfred Jingle; here, too, is the actual ball-room, which,
with its glass chandeliers and “elevated den” for the musicians, has
remained unaltered since the description of it appeared in “Pickwick.”
The sleeping apartments of Messrs. Tupman and Winkle (“Winkle’s bedroom
is inside mine,” said Mr. Tupman) may be identified in those numbered 13
and 19 respectively, while Mr. Pickwick’s room is distinguished as “No.
17,” which tradition declares was occupied on at least one occasion by
Dickens himself, and now contains some pieces of furniture formerly in
use at Gad’s Hill Place. Although much less prominently than in
“Pickwick,” the Bull is introduced in other works of Dickens. It
appears, for example, in one of the “Sketches by Boz,” entitled “The
great Winglebury Duel” (written before “Pickwick”), where “the little
town of Great Winglebury” and “the Winglebury Arms” are undoubtedly
intended for Rochester and its principal hostelry. In “Great
Expectations” the Bull is again introduced as the Blue Boar, where it
will be remembered that, in honour of the important event of Pip being
bound apprentice to Joe Gargery (the premium having been paid by Miss
Havisham), arrangements were made for a dinner at the Blue Boar,
attended by the servile Pumblechook, the Hubbles, and Mr. Wopsle. “Among
the festivities indulged in rather late in the evening,” observes Pip,
who did not particularly enjoy himself on the occasion, “Mr. Wopsle gave
us Collins’s Ode, and ‘threw his blood-stain’d sword in thunder down,’
with such effect that a waiter came in and said, ‘The commercials
underneath sent up their compliments, and it wasn’t the Tumblers’

It was recently rumoured that the Bull, not proving satisfactorily
remunerative, stood in danger of demolition, and that a new hotel,
possessing those improvements which present-day travellers regard as
indispensable, would be erected on the site. Needless to say, all
Dickens lovers would deplore the realization of such a proposal.

* * * * * * * *

I venture to conclude with a few supplementary remarks concerning Gad’s
Hill Place, the bourne to which all devout Dickens worshippers make a
pilgrimage, among whom our American cousins are undoubtedly the most
ardent enthusiasts.

Dickens paid the purchase-money for Gad’s Hill Place on March 14, 1856;
it was a Friday, and handing the cheque for £1,790 to Wills, he
observed: “Now, isn’t it an extraordinary thing—look at the day—Friday!
I have been nearly drawing it half a dozen times, when the lawyers have
not been ready, and here it comes round upon a Friday as a matter of
course.” He frequently remarked that all the important events of his
life happened to him on a Friday. Referring to this transaction, Mrs.
Lynn Linton, in “My Literary Life,” says: “We sold it cheap, £1,700, and
we asked £40 for the ornamental timber. To this Dickens and his agent
made an objection; so we had an arbitrator, who awarded us £70, which
was in the nature of a triumph.” The house contains fourteen rooms and
the usual offices; there are greenhouses, stables, a kitchen-garden, a
farmyard, etc., the property comprising eleven acres of land, a
considerable portion of which Dickens subsequently acquired through
private negotiations with the respective owners.

At Gad’s Hill Dickens produced some of his best work. During the period
of his residence here (1857-1870), he wrote the concluding chapters of
“Little Dorrit,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Great Expectations,” “Our
Mutual Friend,” and the fragment of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,”
concerning which Longfellow entertained a very high opinion, believing
that it promised to be one of the finest of his stories; he also
contributed to _All The Year Round_ those remarkable papers published
under the general title of “The Uncommercial Traveller,” perhaps the
most delightful of his minor writings.

It was on June 8, 1870, that Dickens, while at dinner, suddenly became
very ill and almost immediately lost consciousness, from which he never
recovered. On the following day his spirit fled, and it is no
exaggeration to say that never has the death of a distinguished man
caused greater consternation throughout the civilized world than did the
unexpected passing of the great novelist.

Not many weeks had elapsed after this sad event when Gad’s Hill Place
and its contents were disposed of by public auction. The house, with
eight acres of meadow-land, was virtually bought in by Charles Dickens
the younger at the much enhanced price of £7,500. For a time the
novelist’s eldest son made it his home; but, as he informed the present
writer, the increasing needs of his large and growing young family could
not be sufficiently accommodated, and this determined him to sell the
place—a decision which naturally caused those interested in its fate to
fear the possibility of its falling into the hands of an unsympathetic
proprietor, who would fail to appreciate or to cherish the unique
associations. After being a considerable time on the market, the
property was purchased in 1879 by Captain (now Major) Austin F. Budden,
then of the 12th Kent Artillery Volunteers, and Mayor of Rochester from
that year until 1881.

It was during Major Budden’s occupancy of Gad’s Hill Place, in the late
summer of 1888, that I accompanied my friend the late Mr. W. R. Hughes
(author of “A Week’s Tramp in Dickens Land”) on a memorable visit to
this famous residence. We met with a most friendly reception from the
genial host and his wife, and were privileged to inspect every point of
interest within and without—the library with its curious dummy
book-backs, the dining-room where “the Master” succumbed to the fatal
seizure, the conservatory (his “last improvement”), the well (with the
Major’s mare, Tell-tale, busily drawing water), the grave of the pet
canary, the tunnel under the Dover road, etc. Perhaps the most
unexpected treat was the view from the roof of the building, whence it
is easy to realize the charming environment. Looking northward from this
high elevation, we may view the marshes, which flat and dreary expanse
is relieved by a glimpse of the Thames, widening as it approaches
seaward, and bearing upon its silvery bosom a number of vessels, both
steamships and sailing ships, the ruddy brown sails of the barges giving
colour to the scene. To the east is the valley of the Medway, the
prospect including a distant view of Rochester, crowned by the rugged
keep of the old Castle and by the Cathedral tower.[115] To the south the
beautifully undulating greensward of Cobham Park and the umbrageous
Cobham Woods complete this wonderful panorama of Nature.

In 1889 (the year following that of our visit) Gad’s Hill Place narrowly
escaped destruction by fire. It is the old story—a leakage of gas, a
naked light, and an explosion; happily, Major Budden’s supply of
hand-grenades did their duty and saved the building. Shortly afterwards
the house and accompanying land were again in the market, and in 1890 a
purchaser was found in the Hon. Francis Law Latham, Advocate-General at
Bombay. This gentleman, however, could not enter into possession until
his return to England a few months later. Meanwhile Major Budden took up
his residence elsewhere, so that during a part of the year 1891 Gad’s
Hill Place was empty and deserted, pathetically contrasting with those
ever-to-be-remembered days when Charles Dickens and his hosts of friends
enlivened the neighbourhood with cricket matches, athletic sports, etc.
Mr. Latham is still the tenant-owner of Gad’s Hill Place, and, needless
to say, thoroughly appreciates the unique associations of his attractive
home, where he hopes to spend in quiet and secluded retirement the
remaining years of a busy life.