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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

Charles Dickens

The Victorian novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870) had a hard  childhood. His father was imprisoned for debt when Charles was  only 12, and he himself was sent to work in a blacking factory.  After his father’s release he resumed his schooling for three or  four years before becoming an office boy for a solicitor. In 1828  he became a reporter for the ‘Morning Chronicle’, and he started  writing short stories and sketches for magazines under the pen  name of ‘Boz’. In early 1836 ‘Sketches by Boz’ were collected  and published, and in March of the same year the serialisation of  ‘Pickwick Papers’ began. Dickens’ novels are a vivid portrayal of  social life in Victorian England, much of it derived from his own  experience, and show his abiding concern with social deprivation  and injustice. Dickens stayed in Dover on a number of occasions and also  made frequent trips through the port on his way to the  Continent, often staying at the Lord Warden Hotel. He found that he worked well in Dover and particularly enjoyed his walks along  the cliffs. Dover is referred to in many of Dickens’s novels and  articles and it features prominently in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and  David Copperfield’.   In 1852 Dickens stayed at 10 Camden Crescent for three months  while he was writing “Bleak House”. He is said to have  frequented the Pilot Field, the high ground behind Snargate  Street, lying on his back in the sun, planning his work. Although  he didn’t find Dover entirely to his liking, writing to Mary Boyle  on 22 July 1852 from Dover he said:   “My Dear Mary, you do scant justice to Dover. It is not quite to  my taste, being too bandy (I mean musical; no reference to its  legs) and infinitely too genteel. But the sea is very fine, and the  walks are quite remarkable.”   In November 1861 he stayed at the Lord Warden Hotel during  one of his reading tours and read at the Apollonian Hall, on  Snargate Street for two hours. He had a favourable reception  from his audience which he describes in a letter to Miss Hogarth.  He spoke “before a large and intelligent audience”, who  “wouldn’t go, but sat applauding like mad”, “the audience with  the greatest sense of humour certainly is Dover”. In the same  letter he describes rough weather at sea observed from the  shore:  “The storm was most magnificent at Dover… The sea came in  like a great sky of immense clouds, forever breaking suddenly  into furious rain… The unhappy Ostend packet unable to get in  or go back, beat about the Channel all Tuesday night and until  noon yesterday, when I saw her come in, with five men at the  wheel, a picture of misery inconceivable.” Dickens himself crossed the Channel on many occasions and  probably drew on his own experiences, and observations like the  one above, for his account of cross-Channel travel in his work  The Uncommercial Traveller’.  
Charles Dickens in 1858. The Admiralty Pier in a storm, 1860s. Before the building of the Marine Station there was little shelter for trains and passengers.