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Charles Dickens

Last updated on 5th March 2010

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Charles Dickens was great friends with Thomas Latimer, the editor of the Western Times, at 143 Fore Street. Latimer's home was at the same address and Dickens would often stay with his family when visiting Exeter. Latimer and Dickens first met in 1835, as young reporters, when they were taking verbatim shorthand from the rain soaked hustings for the Exeter City Council elections. Dickens had used Latimer's shoulder to support his notepad and they compared notes before both rushed to meet the deadline for their respective newspapers. Latimer went on to become a radical journalist in Exeter, while Dickens resigned his job in 1836 to concentrate on writing, after the serialisation of the Pickwick Papers.

The editor between 1832 and 1835, of another Exeter newspaper, the Tory Western Luminary was George Hogarth. Dickens met his daughter Catherine during a visit to Exeter and married her in 1836. They went on to have 10 children, before they separated in 1858.

Dickens leased Mile End Cottage in Alphington for his parents and their youngest son. He wrote "I took a little house for them this morning"...."and if they are not pleased with it I shall be grievously disappointed. Exactly a mile beyond the city on the Plymouth road there are two white cottages: one is theirs and the other belongs to their landlady." - written on 5 March, 1839, from the New London Inn in Exeter. They lived there for three and a half years. He also stayed at the New London Inn on 29th October 1842 before visiting his father in Alphington and then travelling on to Lans End.

Dickens also refreshed himself at the Turk's Head Inn in the High Street. It was while sitting in the corner that he observed the customers that frequented the tavern and that became characters in his novels. The Fat Boy in Pickwick Papers was straight out of the Turks Head. He was also inspired by his observations to create the characters of Mrs Lupin of the Blue Dragon in Martin Chuzzlewit, and Pecksniff.

Dickens also visited Exeter to give a reading of a Christmas Carol, in August 1858 at the Royal Public Rooms. The Flying Post reported on the event with "... Mr. Dickens possesses great  dramatic ability, wonderful powers of facial expression, and a rich sonorous voice, of which he is a perfect master–changing it from the rough tones of Scrooge to the sweet and delicate key of Tiny Tim with an easy and remarkable facility."

He wrote from Plymouth to Miss Hogarth about the reading in Exeter the day before.

"We had a most wonderful night at Exeter. It is to be regretted that we cannot take the place again on our way back. It was a prodigious cram and we turned away no end of people. But not only that; I think they were the finest audience I have ever read to. I don't think I have ever read, in some respects, so well, and I never beheld anything like the personal affection which they poured out upon me at the end. It was really a remarkable sight, and I shall always look back upon it with pleasure."

Charles Dickens. Mile End Cottage Mile End House, Alphington.

Other readings in Exeter by Dickens:
10th January 1862
Nicholas Nickleby
Trail from Pickwick
David Copperfield

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