Charles Dickens

                                  Charles Dickens, an engraved portrait




“Charles Dickens, an engraved portrait

Notes on Charles Dickens and Dover:

From Dover Express 11 September 1908

“The associations of Dickens in Dover are the subject of an interesting article which appeared in the Journal “The Dickensian” published by the Dickens Fellowship and written by editor, Mr B.W. Matz. “Not only did Dickens bring in Dover in two of his novels, David Copperfield and a Tale of Two Cities, but he also describes its peculiarities as they struck him, in the 'Uncommercial Traveller'.” “Considering how often Dickens must have been through Dover, on the occasion of his sea trips, says Mr Matz, and the frequent mention in his books of the road to the sea port, which ran past his house at Gad's Hill, one may be a little surprised he did not devote a special article to it as he did in the case of Broadstairs, Folkestone, and Boulogne. The town is of course mentioned many times in his writings, but there are few detailed descriptions.



  “Dickens stayed there on at least two occasions. He hired No.10 Camden Crescent for three months in the summer of 1852 whilst he was busy on “Bleak House”, and in a letter from that address to Miss Mary Boyle he said 'My dear Mary, you do scant justice to Dover. It is not quite a place to my taste, being too bandy (I mean musical, no reference to its legs)” and infintely too gentile. But the sea is very fine and the walks very remarkable. 

There are two ways of going to Folkestone, both lovely and striking in the highest degree. There are Heights and Downs, and country roads and I don't know what, everywhere.
The other occasion was in 1861 when he stayed at the Lord Warden Hotel and in a letter to Wilkie Collins he speaks again of the fine walks to Folkestone.“Of course I am dull and penitent here, but it is very beautiful. I can work well and I walked by the cliffs to Folkestone and back today.

This year he gave one of his public readings in Dover which was so crowded many people had to be turned away. Mr John Agate and his family were among the unfortunate and he wrote an angry letter to Dickens to which he received a very kind letter of explanation back...........

In the same letter he describes a storm which took place in the early part of November, “It was most magnificent at Dover. All the great side of the Lord Warden next to the sea had to be emptied, the break of the waves was so prodious and the noise so utterly confounding. The sea came in like a great sky of immense clouds, forever breaking suddenly into furious rain; all kinds of wreck washed in.

But perhaps the chief interest Dover has, for the Dickens enthusiast is, in the fact, that here lived Betsy Trotwood; that most charming of the novelist's women characters- poor little David's aunt, and that Dover was the objective of her nephew's weary tramp from London, but let me at once say that her 'very neat little cottage with cheerful bow windows; in front of it a small square gravelled court or garden full of flowers, carefully tended and smelling deliciously' has never yet been identified. Dickens locates it up in the Heights, facing the sea.

Mr Ashby Sterry, in his 'Cucumber Chronicles' is satisfied about a certain house he discovered on the Heights, but Mr C.K. Worsfold in a letter to the author of 'A week's tramp in Dickensland' had his doubts about the identification. But as a matter of fact the lady upon whom Dickens moulded David's Aunt was Miss Mary Strong, who lived in a cottage similar to that he describes as Bessie Trotwood's house, on the front at Broadstairs. She had the 'whims about donkeys', and it is on the authority of Charles Dickens the younger, who knew the lady personally, and, in the Pall Mall magazine, gave some account of his acquaintance with her, that the fact is stated. What the novelist did in this case is what he frequently did in others - described a house or character he saw in one place and located it in another.

The character of Betsy Trotwood lived on the Heights of Dover and when poor care-worn David Copperfield came at last to the great aim of his journey and set foot in the town of Dover, he was relieved but helpless and dispirited. “I enquired about my aunt among the boatmen first and received various answers. One said she lived in the South Foreland light and singed her whiskers by doing so; another that she was made fast to the great buoy outside the harbour and could only be visited at half tide; the fourth that she was seen to mount a broom in the next high wind and make direct for Calais” Fly-drivers and shop-keepers were equally disrespectful. One morning he was sitting on the steps of a shop at a street corner of the Market Place when he at last got information from a fly-driver who also gave him a penny which poor David invested in a loaf from the shop. This shop was some years ago identified as that of Igglesden the baker's, later Igglesden & Graves.”


Regarding Number 10 Camden Crescent, Dover : Announcing the death of Mrs Henry Brenchley, of 10 Camden Crescent, in 1928, the Dover Express noted : “ Charles Dickens resided at 10 Camden Crescent for three months in 1852. Then writing “Bleak House” and living in London, he had complained he was unable to 'grind sparks out of his dull blade' . He originally intended to go to Paris for a change, but came to Dover where he was “able at last to work!” He remained at 10 Camden Crescent until October 1852, when he went to Boulogne.”
(Dover Express and East Kent News Friday 17 February 1928 page 9 column 5)


from Dover Express 26 August 1938 Dover and Betsy Trotwood's Cottage: (this report has been edited)

Adrian Street has for generations been selected by Dickens detectives as the location of Betsy Trotwood's cottage, made famous in David Copperfield. John Bavington-Jones in his book “Dover - a Perambulation” says 'In this above-wall district is supposed to have been situated Betsy Trotwood's cottage but it cannot now be identified. It was said to have been somewhere toward the Pilot's Outlook which used to occupy the edge of the cliff at the top of Adrian Street, before the Pilot Tower was built at the Pier.'

Subsequently the attention of that writer was drawn to a cottage with a double front and a small, walled-in front garden.

This had however been deprived of all sea views by a house which had been built in front of it.

In Mr Walter Dexter's “The Kent of Dickens” that writer falls in with the view that the cottage Dickens had in mind really existed at Broadstairs. He says, “the location of Betsy Trotwood at Dover was purely imaginary” as the original was Mary Strong, who lived in the house in Nuckall's Place, Broadstairs, now called 'Dickens House' and marked with a tablet inscribed as follows: 'In this house lived the original of Betsy Trotwood in 'David Copperfield' by Charles Dickens, 1849.”

“The gardens now in front of the house which faces the sea were meadow land in those days, and Miss Strong, it is said, had as decided an antipathy to donkeys as Miss Betsy”

“Mr Dexter says that there is no record of Dickens having stayed at any length of time at Dover, till 1852, three years after he had introduced it by name as the place that Betsy Trotwood lived.” There may be no record, but as Dickens had lived for 37 years before David Copperfield was written it is very unsafe to deduce that he did not know Dover.

The internal evidence in the account by Dickens of young Copperfield's search for his aunt at Dover does not really favour the idea that the cottage was one in Adrian Street district. Apart from the fact that most of the houses which have recently been pulled down were in existence at the time there is the question of distance from the Market Place.

It was here that little David found a fly-driver who directed him to his aunt's cottage. He said 'If you go up there, (pointing with his whip towards the Heights) and keep right on until you come to some houses facing the sea, I think you will hear of her. My opinion is, she won't stand anything, so here's a penny for you.” I accepted the gift gratefully and bought a loaf with it. I went in the direction my friend had indicated and walked on a good distance without coming to the houses he had mentioned. At length I saw some before me and, approaching them, went into a little shop and enquired if they would have the goodness to tell me where Miss Trotwood lived”

The evidence to be deduced from this is, that as David had walked from London to Dover he would not describe it as a ”good distance” to cross the Market Square, go through the lanes, and up Adrian Street. These considerations force one to the conclusion that the story about Betsy Trotwood's cottage having been in Adrian Street must be regarded as being demolished - just as much as the Adrian Street area.

There are people in Dover who have 'found' the site of the cottage in another part of the town. One suggestion was Laureston House, on the old Castle Hill.

There is a mention in the Copperfield story about donkey-rides. Now, at Dover, in the early part of the last century (ie. Early 1800s) a great place to hire donkeys was near the site of the old Burlington Hotel on the corner of Woolcomber Street and Liverpool Street, part of which site there once stood the house of one, Madame Sarah Rice, a Dover lady of repute who was quite as determined a character as Miss Trotwood. It is quite possible that Dickens had heard of Madame Rice having objections to donkeys and riders coming too close to her property. This is all imagination but so is everything else which has been said or written about Betsy Trotwood's cottage.


Letters to the Dover Express:
" Another correspondent, writing of Snargate Street, says we forgot to recall that Charles DICKENS gave one of his public readings at the Wellington Hall. This is, however, not so. The reading Dickens gave at Dover was on November 5th 1861, at the Apollonian Hall, which was in the part of Snargate Street pulled down in 1930 to widen Commercial Quay. Describing his readings in a letter to his daughter, DICKENS said: 'The effect of the readings at Hastings and Dover really seems to have outdone the best usual impression, and at Dover they wouldn’t go, but sat applauding like mad. The most delicate audience I have ever seen in any provincial place is at Canterbury, an intelligent and delightful response in them like the touch of a beautiful instrument, but the audience with the greatest sense of humour certainly is at Dover. The people in the stalls set the example of laughing, in the most curiously unreserved way, and they laughed with such really cordial enjoyment, when SQUEERS read the boys' letters, that the contagion extended to me. For one couldn’t hear them without laughing too' . ”

(Dover Express 13 Aug 1948 - in a letter from Basil SQUIER of Dover)

from the Dover Review March 1964, page 27:

When Dickens was in Dover
“Mr Agate was furious. Clutching his tickets - bought and paid for well in advance - he had waited for hours with his family to hear the great Charles Dickens reading his own works to a Dover audience. And then - Disaster.

“All seats gone,” the stewards told him, “ No, Sir, we can't pack another one in - not even if you HAVE got tickets.”

Mr Agate stormed home, wrote a 'blister' to Mr Dickens and delivered the note personally to the Lord Warden Hotel. What Mr Agate said is not on record. But we do know that the letter which Mr Dickens wrote to him from the hotel on November 6th, 1861, was full of apologies, recognised that Mr Agate had 'just cause for complaint,' explained that he himself was not responsible for the ticket arrangements, and assured him that if there were more readings at Dover Mr Agate would be compensated.

And what did the lucky Dovorians who managed to get in think? Dickens described their reactions in another letter written from the Lord Warden Hotel: “At Dover they wouldn't go but sat applauding like mad,” he said. In fact, he found the Dovorians to be the audience with the greatest sense of humour of any to whom he had read on his Provincial tours........

“Marine Ostrich ”
Dickens already knew Dover well, of course. In the summer of 1851 he had taken No.10 Camden Crescent for three months. In “A Tale of Two Cities ” he remembered that “ 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.”

He also remembered in the same book that the air among the houses of Dover was “of so strong a piscatory flavour that one might have supposed that sick fish went up to be dipped in it ... ”

Even less flattering, he said this about some of our smuggler forefathers: “A little fishing was done in the port and a quantity of strolling about at night, and looking seawards....” so that “;..... small tradesmen, who did no business whatsoever sometimes unaccountably realised large fortunes, and it was remarkable that nobody in the neighbourhood could endure a lamplighter.”

That One Plaque
In “The Uncommercial Traveller ” Dickens saw the sea at Dover “tumbling in with deep sounds after dark, and the revolving French light on Cap Gris Nez 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 see how it was burning.”

Perhaps Dover does not do Dickens justice with that one plaque - about the fictitious David Copperfield - in the Market Square. Perhaps we ought also to tell the world with two more notices - on what was the Lord Warden Hotel and somewhere in Camden Crescent that “Charles Dickens stayed here ”

After all, if other towns in the neighbourhood had the same opportunity they certainly wouldn't be slow in taking advantage of it.