Town celebrates Dickens’ birthday

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens

TODAY marks 200 years since the birth of one of the world’s best-loved authors - Charles Dickens.

Celebrations are taking place across the globe to mark the anniversary, but did you know that Dickens has a number of literary links to Scarborough and the surrounding areas?

Dickens Scenesetters''Picture by Neil Silk  120526a'01/02/12

Dickens Scenesetters''Picture by Neil Silk 120526a'01/02/12

Many Scarborough residents will have walked along Huntriss Row without noticing a plaque which commemorates the author’s visit to the town.

In the central doorway at Pizza Hut a plaque shows that in 1858 Dickens gave two readings from his works in the building, which used to house the Assembly Rooms.

The Assembly Rooms were built by Scarborough businessman and hotelier John Sharpin, who bought two houses in the street, demolished them, and opened the Assembly Rooms in 1857.

At ground level there was a billiard room, a concert and lecture hall was situated above it, and on the top floor there was a photographic gallery.

Dickens Scenesetters  Picture by Neil Silk  120526a 01/02/12

Dickens Scenesetters Picture by Neil Silk 120526a 01/02/12

Sharpin was elected mayor of Scarborough and was thought at the age of 31 to be the youngest mayor in England.

Dickens also visited churchyards in Scarborough and Filey, writing about them in one of his factual books, titled “Household Words”, in 1851.

An extract about St Mary’s Churchyard reads: “For abundant and overwhelming evidences of the dangerous life of sea-faring men, a churchyard of a town like Scarborough is the place.

“There the old Church of St Mary, at the foot of the Castle Hill, exhibits as densely crowded a scene of tombstones as any graveyard of the metropolis itself.

“It has been the great depository of the dead there for, probably, a thousand years.

“When the Saxons lived on the spot, it most likely received their remains. When the Danes, under Regner Lodbrog scoured this coast, fortified Flambro’ Head, and built Whitby, or llvitbege - their White-town - where Pierce Gaveston held the castle for the foolish Edward II when Robert Aske and his ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ were its masters, and when Sir John Meldrum, the Parliamentary general, was killed before it.

“Through all these times this thronged cemetery was receiving its generations of the dead. Yet still how many stones are mere memorials of those whose bones are scattered over the wide earth, and throng the deepest depths of the sea.”

He also gives an account of a visit to Filey, saying: “Our first visit was to the churchyard of Filey, a mere village, well known to thousands of summer tourists for the noble extent of its sands, and the stern magnificence of its so-called bridge, or promontory of savage rocks running far into the sea, on which you may walk, at low-water; but which, with the advancing tide, becomes savagely grand, from the fury with which the ocean breaks over it.

“In tempestuous weather this bridge is truly a bridge of sighs to mariners, and many a noble ship has been dashed to pieces upon it.”

He goes on to refer to the often tragic stories told by inscriptions on the gravestones and also gives an account of a shipwreck off Filey.

Malton also has links to the author, with many believing that The Counting House in Chancery Lane inspired Ebeneezer Scrooge’s place of work in A Christmas Carol.

The town has its own Charles Dickens Society, which will be holding an event at Malton Library on Saturday.

From 4.30pm to 5.30pm, members, dressed in Victorian costume, will read a lively and varied selection of short extracts from the author’s works and also share interesting snippets of information on the stories behind the stories.

The society will also be opening the counting house today and on Saturday, from 10am to 2pm. Members invite the public to come down and meet them and learn more about the author’s links with Malton.