28 February 2011

Dickens upon Thames

This month's Kingston upon Thames Society meeting looked at Charles Dickens' local connections through his life and his works.

Our guide for the evening was Dr David Parker, former Curator of the Dickens Society, who told an interesting story with the authenticity of a rich scholarly vein behind it.

The talk started with gentle introduction to Charles Dickens and the Thames which, being an important part of London at that time was clearly an important part of many of his books that are set there. This was illustrated with pictures from some of his books, they were "The River" from David Copperfield, "The Ferry" and "Floating Away" from Little Dorritt and "up the River" from The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

We then moved on from Central London to the Richmond area which then counted as in the country (some say it still does!). An interesting comment from Dickens was that Richmond Green was a "wild and desolate place". Again, some might still agree.

Dickens' main local connection comes from the summers he spent here in 1836 and 1839. We do not know where he stayed in '36 but in '39 he stayed at Elm Cottage in Petersham. This now calls itself Elm Lodge, a claim to grandeur that I'm not sure it deserves.

Here one of the local pleasures was the Petersham Races, believed to be held in what is now the water meadows.

Another presumable pleasure was being invited to dinner at the nearby Woodbines Cottage (also still here) by two ladies who grew their social skills across the water at Strawberry Hill with Horace Walpole.

We also learnt that the building of Teddington Lock in 1811 opened the upper reaches of the Thames to boat traffic and Dickens used this route regularly to go to Slough where he had a lady friend safely a long way out of town.

It was good to come out of a Kingston Society meeting having learnt quite a lot about the local area from an acknowledged expert as that's exactly why I go to their meetings.

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