14 Jan Dickens House Museum, Broadstairs Kent
Dickens House Museum was once the home of Miss Mary Pearson Strong, on whom Dickens based much of the character of Miss Betsey Trotwood in his novel David Copperfield. It is now a popular visiting place for tourists and fans of Dickens who want to discover his strong connection with Broadstairs.
Who is Charles Dickens?
Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) was an English writer and social commentator. He is acclaimed as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era and wrote many classics including Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.
Charles Dickens was undeniably a champion of the Victorian poor and was something of a literary rebel for his time. He attacked many Victorian institutions in his novels, including the legal, political and parliamentary system, which he felt were morally unfair. But despite this, his work was popular even amongst those he criticised, as he wasn’t a revolutionary advocating major changes. He simply felt British morality could be improved and treatment of ordinary people could be kinder.
His own family experienced a period of poverty when his father got into debt and as a child he was sent to work long hours. This traumatic time is revisited in his writing. Charles Dickens is definitely at his best when writing about childhood, as seen early on in David Copperfield, a novel inspired in part by his time in Broadstairs. This sympathetic depiction of children was a rarity in Victorian times and perhaps accounts for his long standing popularity amongst both adults and children to this day.
Charles Dickens and his connection to Broadstairs
You cannot think how delightful and fresh the place is and how good the walks
Between 1837 to 1851 Charles Dickens was a regular visitor to Broadstairs in Kent and fondly called it as, “Our English Watering Place”. He described scenes of children happily playing on the sands that could easily have been written today. Whilst staying in hotel called Bleak House, Dickens wrote the classic David Copperfield.
In 1849 Charles Dickens began his masterpiece, David Copperfield, which describes Copperfield’s life from birth to maturity, the obstacles he faces and the friends he makes. David Copperfield, which remains the most autobiographical of Dickens novels, was greatly influenced by his numerous visits to Broadstairs.
Some of the most iconic characters in this story were inspired by real people. These include the strong-willed and opinionated Miss Betsey Trotwood, who is based on Miss Mary Pearson Strong who lived at the cottage which is now the Dickens Museum.
We get a sense of the person she was from the following excerpt when David Copperfield first meets his aunt:
‘… when there came out of the house a lady with her handkerchief tied over her cap, and a pair of gardening gloves on her hands, wearing a gardening pocket like a toll-man’s apron, and carrying a great knife. I knew her immediately to be Miss Betsey, for she came stalking out of the house exactly as my poor mother had so often described her stalking up our garden at Blunderstone Rookery.
” Go away! ” said Miss Betsey, shaking her head, and making a distant chop in the air with her knife. ” Go along! No boys here! ”
I watched her, with my heart at my lips, as she marched to a corner of her garden, and stooped to dig up some little root there. Then, without a scrap of courage, but with a great deal of desperation, I went softly in and stood beside her, touching her with my finger.
”If you please, ma’am, ”, I began.
She started and looked up.
” If you please, aunt. ”
” EH? ” exclaimed Miss Betsey, in a tone of amazement I have never heard approached.
” If you please, aunt, I am your nephew .”
” Oh, Lord! ” said my aunt. And sat flat down in the garden-path.’
Charles Dickens’ son Charley recalled how he and his father regularly had tea and cakes with Miss Pearson Strong in her cottage. He thought of her as , ‘ kindly and charming … but completely convinced of her right to stop donkeys passing along the cliff top in front of her house and chase boys off her lawn!’ .
The Dickens Festival
In recognition of the strong links with Charles Dickens, every year in June the town holds a week long ‘Dickens Festival’ enjoyed by thousands of holidaymakers and residents alike.
The festival was started in 1937 by Gladys Waterer, who was resident of Dickens House. She conceived the idea of putting on a production of David Copperfield and of having people about the town dress in Victorian costumes to publicise it. This tradition of dressing up continues to this day.
Dickens House Museum
The beautiful little seaside cottage where Mary Pearson Strong once lived is now both a museum and gift shop. It faithfully recreates the character of the house that Charles Dickens would have known, including the parlour where he had tea and cakes. The museum also houses a permanent collection of Dickens’ personal effects, including his writing box and several letters mentioning Broadstairs, alongside displays of Dickensian memorabilia and Victorian clothing.
The museum is manned by friendly volunteers who are more than happy to answer any questions visitors might have about Broadstairs and Charles Dickens’ long standing love of the place as his favourite holiday resort.
Gift Shop Information
The museum features a gift shop and is suitable for families with children of all ages. It sells a range of Dickens related mementos, including his novels and other Victorian era books and souvenirs. They also sell writing paraphernalia including quill pens, inks and blotting paper.
- Dickens House Museum,
2 Victoria Parade,
Broadstairs CT10 1QS
- Phone Number: +44 1843 861232
- Spring: Good Friday (25th March) to 12th June
- Every afternoon 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm
- Summer: Monday 13th June until 11th September
- Everyday 10:00 am to 4:30 pm
- Autumn: Monday 12th September to 30th October
- Every afternoon 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm
- Late Autumn: Monday 31st October to 29th November
- Weekend afternoons 1:00 pm to 4.30 pm
Further Reading & useful links
• Dickens House Museum at Thanet District council
• Charles Dickens at Wikipedia
• BBC Historic figures
• Charles Dickens at Biography.com
• David Copperfield book summary at Cliffnotes
• Dickens Fellowships website.
• Infomation on Miss Betsey Trotwood
• Download the text for David Copperfield at Project Guttenberg