Staplehurst Rail Crash, 1865

Image from the Penny Illustrated Paper, 24th June 1865
Image from the Penny Illustrated Paper, 24th June 1865

Five years to the day after the Staplehurst rail accident, Charles Dickens died in his home at Gad’s Hill. His son Henry and daughter Mamie noted that their father’s nerves and general constitution were never quite the same following the crash.

Travelling with him on that fateful day were his mistress Ellen Ternan and her mother. They were journeying first class on the 2:38 Southeastern train from Folkestone to London, returning home from a trip in Paris.

At around 3:00, the train was approaching the viaduct over the river Beult, where engineering works were taking place. Two errors led to the derailment of the train: firstly, the foreman overseeing the works did not study the timetable sufficiently and believed the train would arrive two hours later. Secondly, the man in charge of waving the red flags in case of approaching trains was posted too close to the construction site, not allowing the train enough time to slow down.

The train derailed, crashing into the river below, killing ten people and injuring forty others. Dickens went around the injured and dying, giving them brandy from his brandy flask. Onlookers would remember how he valiantly helped those he could.

Just before departing on an emergency service, Dickens remembered his manuscript in the carriage – he rescued the pages of his next number of Our Mutual Friend. In the postscript for the novel, he wrote about the accident, and his words there are an indication of his state of mind following the trauma.

“On Friday the Ninth of June in the present year, Mr. and Mrs. Boffin (in their manuscript dress of receiving Mr. and Mrs. Lammle at breakfast) were on the South Eastern Railway with me, in a terribly destructive accident. When I had done what I could to help others, I climbed back into my carriage–nearly turned over a viaduct, and caught aslant upon the turn–to extricate the worthy couple. They were much soiled, but otherwise unhurt. The same happy result attended Miss Bella Wilfer on her wedding day, and Mr. Riderhood inspecting Bradley Headstone’s red neckerchief as he lay asleep. I remember with devout thankfulness that I can never be much nearer parting company with my readers for ever, than I was then, until there shall be written against my life, the two words with which I have this day closed this book:–THE END.”

Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens

Source: Dickens by Peter Ackroyd




Funnily enough, Charles Dickens was not the most promising child in his parents’ eyes – they instead favoured his older sister Fanny, who showed musical talent.

Born in 1810, by 1823, thirteen-year old Fanny had been awarded a spot at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, where she studied under a former pupil of Beethoven, Ignaz Moscheles.

When, in 1827, Fanny’s debts forced her to leave the Academy, her promise and talent enabled her to return and fund her studies through part-time teaching.

She had a certain measure of success – she performed a public concert in 1824, where the prizes were awarded by a member of the royal family. In 1834, she received an associate honorary membership at the Academy.

Her career consisted of singing in various public concerts – however, she was soon outshone by Dickens’ writing career. Claire Tomalin writes in Dickens: A Life, that she was never going ‘to be a star’.

The star ended up being Charles Dickens. While Fanny’s career has been lost in history, Dickens’ shines brightly down to this day.

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Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin


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Despite being an English Literature student, I don’t read as often as I would like. We have to read so much for university, that by the time I’ve stopped doing assigned reading, I mostly end up watching Friends reruns.

Stupid! It’s a habit I’m trying to break, because once I start reading a good book for pleasure, I’m reminded of why I chose to study English Literature in the first place.

On that note, here are a couple of Dickens quotes that sum up the pleasure and joy in books and reading:

“My father had left a small collection of books in a little room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time . . .” ~ David from David Copperfield 

Reading for the ‘hope of something beyond that place and time’ – isn’t that why most of us read? For escapism? To broaden our imaginations so that we can conceive of things we could never have dreamed up ourselves?

“No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.” ~ Our Mutual Friend

Don’t we all know this look – it’s what moves us to buy ten books at the book store even though we have a pile of unread books stacked up at home.

Happy reading readers! What are you reading at the moment?

Photo Credit: Larissa Scotting ©


Gad's Hill Place

When Dickens died, he had come full circle – Gad’s Hill Place, the house he used to admire as a boy while living in his first homes in Kent became the house he bought, lived and died in years later.

Having viewed it as a child while being treated to a trip onboard his father’s small naval yacht, it became the house he aspired to own when he was older and richer.[1]

“Chobham Woods and Park are behind the house; the distant Thames in front; the Medway, with Rochester, and its old castle and cathedral on one side. The whole stupendous property is on the Old Dover Road.” ~ Dickens to Cerjat, 7th July 1858[2]

In 1856, he fulfilled this dream and bought Gad’s Hill Place. It was converted into a school in the 1920s, however, since 2012 it has also been open to the public. The appeal is obvious – see where Dickens lived, breathed, wrote, and died.

Photo Credit:

BACK TO POST 1. Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life (London: Penguin Books, 2012), p. 13.

BACK TO POST 2. From The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens Volume VIII 1856-1858 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 598.


I love that I live in the city Dickens obsessed over in so many of his novels. I love that so many places associated with him are within walking distance of my university.

One such place is Rules Restaurant, a five minute walk from Covent Garden underground station. It is the oldest restaurant in London, established in 1798. He was a regular diner there, and there is now a private upstairs dining room named in his honour.

Rules Restaurant, Covent Garden
Rules Restaurant, Covent Garden

It’s amazing that places like these have survived into the twenty-first century! Walking around London and haunting the various locations that would have been identical in the Victorian era is an exciting way of glimpsing into Dickens’ world.

Make sure to visit Rules when you’re next in London!

Photo Credit: Herry Lawford via Flickr


Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop tells the tragic story of lovely Nell Trent. It was hugely popular when originally published – so much so that when the final instalment arrived in New York, a crowd mobbed the wharf in their eagerness to discover the characters’ fate.[1]

There has been some debate, however, on the authenticity of the shop claiming to be the original inspiration for The Old Curiosity Shop.


The shop is conveniently located around the corner from my departmental building, 13-14 Portsmouth Street, London, WC2A 2ES. It dates back to the 16th century, and was renamed The Old Curiosity Shop shortly after the release of Dickens’ novel. Dickens, who lived in the area, was known to have visited the shop several times, and this seemed to be the basis for the assumption that it inspired the similar shop in the novel.[2]

What do you think? Is this the basis for Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop? Or is it just wishful thinking?

Photo Credit: London Town




Type ‘Charles Dickens quotes’ into Twitter search, and you will notice this quote appears every once in a while. When I first stumbled across it, I thought it sounded suspicious.

It sounded suspiciously non-Dickensian. A quick dig through Google made me realise people had been incorrectly attributing this quote, by Linda Grayson and published by Printwick Papers, with Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers.

Readers, if you ever come across this quote and it has been falsely associated with the genius Charles Dickens, do not be taken in. Know the difference between Pickwick and Printwick.

Photo Credit: EVIT culinary arts via Pinterest