Universally recognised as one of the truly great Victorian writers, Charles Dickens created stories which have helped to reveal a vivid picture for us all, of life in early Victorian England.
So it is fitting that – in the 150th anniversary of his death, on June 9, 1870 – Hampshire will once again be a focal point of a major literary landmark.
Hampshire, of course, was in the spotlight in 2017 – during the year that marked 200 years of one of the county’s best-loved daughters, Jane Austen.
And for 2020, it is the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, on Old Commercial Road in Portsmouth, which will be helping to commemorate Dickens’ links with the county. All eyes were on the house eight years ago, during the events to mark the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth. And literary pilgrims from across the globe are likely to return once again to commemorate the life and times of Charles Dickens.
The small terraced house, on what was formerly called Mill End Terrace, has been lovingly restored and furnished to illustrate middle-class tastes of Dickens’ era. The furniture, ceramics, glass, household objects and decorations within it faithfully recreate the Regency style which Charles’s parents would have favoured – although their actual possessions have long since been dispersed.
There are three furnished rooms: the parlour, the dining room and the bedroom – where Charles was born. The exhibition room features a display on Charles Dickens and Portsmouth, as well as a small collection of memorabilia. This includes the couch on which he died at his house in Kent, his snuff box, inkwell, and paper knife – all poignant reminders of an author celebrated for his prodigious talents and creative output.
It was Charles’s father, John, who moved his family home from London to Portsmouth. John set himself up as a cultured man of taste. He lived in a household filled with books, and witty and clever conversation. His wife, Elizabeth Barrow came from a family with artistic flair: her brothers wrote, as well as being interested in art and music.
John worked in the Portsmouth Dockyard and was kept busy, at a time when the Navy was fully engaged in the Napoleonic War. But he also enjoyed spending the money he earned. Following Charles’s birth at Mill End, the family moved to a less salubrious house in Wish Street; and, when Charles was just two years old, they left Portsmouth for London, where their circumstances took another turn for the worse.
During the birthday anniversary celebrations eight years ago, Ian Dickens – the great, great grandson of Charles, who still lives in Portsmouth – noted: “If you say Shakespeare to an American, they say Stratford-upon-Avon. If you say Dickens, they should say Portsmouth.”
While Claire Tomalin, acclaimed biographer of Dickens, declared that his novels and their depiction of an unfair society were ”amazingly relevant”to the current day: ”Very simply, he is, after Shakespeare, the greatest creator of characters in English.He has gone on entertaining people since the 1830s and his characters’ names are known all over the world.And because of the way he wrote, he adapts very well for theatre and even people who do not read him know about him from films, the TV and musicals.”
All tourist information for Hampshire can be found at http://www.visit-hampshire.co.uk.