Monday, November 12, 2012

Great expectations in a Georgian terraced house

Sweet Baby Charles (whoops - this picture isn't cropped. to be replaced at a later date!)

"A fairly ordinary terraced house near the dockyard in Portsmouth" was the setting for the arrival of Charles Dickens, born here, at 1, Mile End Terrace, on February 7, 1812.

Okay, so the family moved to another house (now demolished) up the road when little Charlie was just three months old, but nobody can take away the honour of being the birthplace of one of  literature's greats from this modest building, now the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum.

John Dickens, Charles's pater, who worked as a clerk at the Navy Pay Office at the nearby naval dockyard, paid £35 a year in rent for No. 1.

As might be expected none of the original furniture belonging to Mr and Mrs Dickens has survived, except for a built-in dresser in the kitchen. What is there, however, rather curiously in a house celebrating his birth, is the chaise longue on which he died fifty-eight years later, in a room next to the one in which he was born. Entrances and exits ... a theatrical twist which Dickens himself would no doubt have appreciated.

The couch was bequeathed to the house by his housekeeper at Gad's Hill in Rochester, his last home, now a school. At the time it was the only Dickens museum in the country. There are now three.

I based this collage on any number of old photographs and postcards of the building and tried to give it a bit of a fussy Dickensian novelish feel. It also, I hope, conveys a sense of happiness, a sunny time before the clouds of debt and poverty overtook the family; before John Dickens "a man prone to living beyond his means" ended up in the Marshalsea debtor's prison in Southwark, surrounded by his family.


  1. Love the vignettes in each window. Especially the baby and cat ones. I remember my husband sneaking a quick test of the chaise longue while visiting there 20+ years ago. Some things you don't forget.