The Arts

Brighton Connections

Concluding our review of Dickens in his bi-centenary year, local author and historian, Rose Collis writes about his connections with Brighton – from the New Encyclopaedia of Brighton.

Charles DickensDickens was a regular visitor to Brighton, first visiting in 1836 while he was writing Oliver Twist. Four years later, he returned for a week and wrote chapters of Barnaby Rudge during his stay. In May 1847, Dickens and his wife Catherine stayed at the Bedford Hotel, while she recuperated from an illness, and he continued writing Dombey and Son. The book is partly set in Brighton, and Chichester House at 1 Chichester Terrace, is said to have been the house described in the novel as ‘Dr Blimber’s Academy for Young Gentlemen’, attended by Paul Dombey Jr.

Charles Dickens blue plaqueWhen writing, Dickens worked at a desk at the window, in absolute silence and, using a goose-quill pen, wrote 2,000 words a day. He finished the book in March 1848 in Brighton, and he and his family stayed on for several weeks. During their stay, Dickens’s illustrator, ‘Phiz’ (Hablot Browne) brought him his sketch for the book’s frontispiece. For this stay, the family had taken lodgings at 60 West Street but, according to one biographer, ‘he had not been in his rooms many days when a strange incident happened ­ both the landlord and the landlord’s daughter went raving mad! This awkward predicament constraining the lodgers to seek refuge at the Bedford Hotel’. In September 2004, three letters written by Dickens to Mr Ellis, the manager of the Bedford Hotel, were sold at auction for £2,400 by Gorringes in Lewes. ‘I had a most amusing conversation with one friend, that Captain Collins’, wrote Dickens on June 8, 1867. ‘His chatter to the trippers was very witty…I feel much better for my short stay here, also the characters one meets at these seaside places.’ After describing his boat trip on the Skylark, he observed ‘it was a lark, the sea was rather choppy’.

On March 7 1850, Dickens came to Brighton for a fortnight, to work on David Copperfield, staying at private lodgings kept by William Bennett, at 148 King’s Road until March 20. In March 1853, he stayed at 1 Junction Parade, with the intention of working on Bleak House. However, as he told his friend Angela Burdett Coutts, the weather was ‘wonderfully propitious for walking, but hardly so for authorship as I have not yet made what can be called a beginning’. He also later complained that, during this stay, he ‘was brayed and brassily blasted into imbecility of mind, by German bands’.

In 1857, Dickens stayed in Brighton for a few days’ rest with his friend Wilkie Collins, whose play The Frozen Deep he had helped edit and had even performed in. Brighton was on the itinerary of several of Dickens’s professional national reading tours: in 1858, he began a provincial tour in Clifton on August 2 and closed in Brighton on 13 November. Another lengthy reading tour of England and Scotland ended here again, in November 1859. In 1861, he read from David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickleby at the Town Hall on November 6 and 7, then from Copperfield at the Royal Pavilion on November 9. He also gave an ‘unofficial’ reading to guests at the Royal York Hotel; a large portrait and several prints featuring Dickens’ characters now adorn the hotel’s lounge.

In 1868, he gave four readings at the Grand Concert Hall, West Street (which later became Sherry’s Dance Hall) as part of his (presciently-titled) 100-date ‘Farewell Tour’. On October 19 and 22, he read from David Copperfield and on November 2 and 7, he read from Nicholas Nickleby and A Christmas Carol. At the readings, he had his customary maroon table (now in the Dickens Museum, London), carpet and screen. In 1951, actor and playwright Emlyn Williams brought a show to the Theatre Royal, in which he recreated some of Dickens’s readings, even using the same sort of table and props.
Rose Collis

Reproduced with the kind permission of the author, Rose Collis

More recently, Simon Callow has taken up the mantle of ‘being’ Dickens in his show, Dr Marigold & Mr Chops, which played at the Theatre Royal in 2011. [Ed]

Categories: The Arts

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