This year the country is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of our finest novelists and writers, Charles Dickens. Most of us read his books at school, and are familiar with the many films that have been made from his stories, particularly the musical. Oliver.
I have been to a number of Dickens festivals over the years, particularly at Rochester, in Kent, and one in Grassington, where it rained non-stop.
This year many exhibitions of Dickens’ life and times are being held, including one in Hounslow library, where the Local Studies Department have researched Dickens’ contacts with this area.
Dickens was born in Portsmouth, the second son in the family. His father was a clerk in the naval pay office and took Charles round the local taverns and to the theatre.
His father fell on hard times and was put into prison for debt, which had a great effect on Charles, and is reflected in his work. The family moved to Chatham and at the age of 12, Charles was sent to a factory where he was given the task of sticking labels on bottles of shoe polish, a job that he hated. He later got employment as a lawyers’ clerk.
The family moved to London and Charles was, for a time, a journalist in Fleet Street and took to writing his stories which appeared in weekly parts.
He made the occasional appearance on stage, having bribed the managers to let him do so.
He eventually married and moved with his family to Doughty Street in 1837 in a three-storey terraced house with an attic and basement.
It is now a museum to the great man but Dickens lived there with his wife Catherine, his son Charley, his brother Fred and Catherine’s younger sister Mary.
By this time his Pickwick Papers had been a great success and it was here that he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. After two years he and the family moved to Devonshire Terrace, Regents Park which has been demolished.
The same fate nearly befell the Doughty Street house, but it was saved by the Dickens Fellowship and re opened as a museum containing much memorabilia and is well worth a visit.
Dickens grew to know this area well, because for a time he lived at Ailsa Park Villas, in St Margarets, Twickenham, and it is said he stayed at the Coach and Horses Inn, London Road, close to the Adam gate of Syon Park.
Mention is made in Oliver Twist, when Bill Sykes takes Oliver to Chertsey to burgle a house, and passes down the London Road to turn off left to Isleworth.
When his books were published in America he undertook two visits there to give readings of his novels, which was most successful.
In 1860 he moved to Gads Hill, Rochester, where he lived out his days.
His grave is in Westminster Abbey where he was honoured by Prince Charles earlier in the year, who laid flowers on the stone.