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The story of Charles Dickens and his links with Liverpool

1 year ago

By Chris Grundy

The story of Charles Dickens and his links with Liverpool

Charles Dickens, author of classics such as Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol, is considered by many to be one of the greatest literary minds that has ever lived.

But did you know the creator of David Copperfield considered Liverpool to be his most favourite city outside of London? 

Born in Portsmouth in 1812, Dickens left school at the age of 12 to work in a boot-blacking factory while his father was serving time in debtors-prison. 3-years later he returned to school before he began his career as a journalist.

His success began when he published The Pickwick Papers, which became a phenomenon, and within a few years Dickens had become an international literary celebrity, famous for his humour, satire and keen observation of character and society. 

The Victorian author enjoyed a rich association with Liverpool during his lifetime. He gave a number of readings, both for charity and as part of his tours. He visited the area as part of research for articles and regularly departed from the port for his tours of America, only to return again. 

After one of his many departures to America, The Liverpool Standard newspaper reported at the time that: “A great many persons were on the pier-bead to see Mr. Dickens off; in fact, he was quite the cynosure of all eyes; we are certain there was not one present who did not heartily wish to have shaken him by the hand, and bid him ‘bon-voyage’.”

Charles Dickens
Credit: The Adelphi Hotel

Dickens’ first known visit to Liverpool was during a visit with his friend, the illustrator Hablot K. Browne in 1838. The two Journeyed to Liverpool to visit Browne’s son Edgar, who lived here at the time. During his stay Dickens was a guest at the Adelphi Hotel for the first time.

One of Dickens’ tour managers, George Dolby, said that Liverpool was his favourite place outside of London to visit, and that the Adelphi Hotel was his favourite regional hotel.

Charles Dickens appeared at the Philharmonic Hall many times while touring over the years. In 1858 he gave public readings in the city. Each of the readings would last two hours, and Dickens performed them over four days. 

On his first night the Phil was a sell out and Dickens performed to 2,300 people. He read from a number of his works including Dombey and Son, Boots At Holly Tree Inn, Martin Chuzzlewit and A Christmas Carol.  

Charles Dickens came to Liverpool in January 1862 as part of a national reading tour and used the Small Concert Room in St George’s Hall, which Dickens thought was ideal for his readings. George Dolby quoted Dickens saying that St. George’s Hall was “the most perfect hall in the world”. On that occasion he gave three readings, Bob Sawyer, David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickleby he was due to give another three Readings the following day, but feeling unwell he travelled over to Birkenhead to clear his head.

It is rumoured that he penned A Christmas Carol during his time in the city – and that he took inspiration for the surname of Oliver Twist after seeing the name on a gravestone in St. James’ Gardens, beneath the Anglican Cathedral – but this has never been substantiated.

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