The following is a detailed timeline we are compiling of the movements of the life of the Victorian writer Charles Dickens during for each year of his life, as we come across them in letters, newspaper articles and other research. We have also included some key contemporary events that occurred in society and major news events from across the world at the time.
January, 10 (Wednesday). Fire destroys Lloyd’s Coffee House and the Royal Exchange in London.
The Royal Exchange of London is now a heap of ruins. A destructive fire has laid waste this celebrated building. The flames were first discovered on Wednesday night, issuing from that portion of the edifice called Lloyd’s Coffeeroom, in the north-east corner opposite the Bank. It was then about half-past ten o’clock; but the fire, it is supposed, had been burning for nearly two hours. The alarm was given by one of the watchmen of the Bank: for, strange to say, there is no watchman attached to the Exchange. It was some time before an entry was effected into the Court-yard of the Exchange, as the gates were closed, and resisted the attempts of the firemen and police who first reached the spot to force them open … Bank of England notes which were taken to St. Michael’s Church twenty sovereigns in a bag were thrown out of the window: the bag burst, and the sovereigns rolled about the pavement: they were all picked up by the mob, who appropriated them to their own use.The Spectator. Saturday, 13 January 1838.
January, 30 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens and Hablot Browne depart London, travelling to Yorkshire to visit boarding schools. The couple reach Grantham between 9 and 10pm, staying over at an inn in the town.
January, 31 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens and Hablot Browne continue their journey to Yorkshire. Depart Grantham, boarding the Glasgow Mail coach before 7am. Around 11pm they reach Greta Bridge, a village in Northern England. In Dickens’s day it was in the county of Yorkshire. Stay at an inn in the village.
February, 1 (Thursday). After breakfast, In the morning, Dickens writes to his wife Catherine, before he sets off, accompanied by Hablot Browne, to visit the town of Barnard Castle.
February, 7. Charles Dickens’s 26th birthday.
February. Charles Dickens begins work on Nicholas Nickleby.
March, 6. Charles Dickens’s second child, Mary, is born.
March, 19. Death of Edward Barnes, U.K. Member of Parliament for Sudbury (Conservative). A former soldier, Barnes had been wounded at the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and served as a governor of Ceylon (1824-1831).
Spring. Charles Dickens is elected a member of the Athenaeum club.
April. Part II (2) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 5–7).
April, 8. The National Gallery first opens to the public in the building purpose-designed for it by William Wilkins in Trafalgar Square, London.
April, 8. The Great Western sets off for its maiden voyage from Bristol-New York. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel as the first steamship purpose-built for crossing the Atlantic, it arrived 15 days later, half the time that sailing ships normally took to make the journey.
May. Part III (3) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 8–10).
May, 8. The People’s Charter is launched by members of the London Working Men’s Association and six MP’s. Amongst the six demands was a call for universal suffrage for male voters.
May, 21 (Monday). Chartists hold a large demonstration in Glasgow. Around 4,000 are reported to attend the afternoon rally.
May, 26 (Saturday). Charles Dickens attends the 49th anniversary dinner of the Literary Fund Society, held at London’s Freemasons’ Hall. Also in attendance are Edward Bulwer-Lytton, actor Charles Kean, illustrator George Cruickshank, and the lawyer and author Sergeant Thomas Talfourd.
May, 31. Battle of Bossenden Wood. A battle takes place between a small group of labourers and a detachment of soldiers near Hernhill in Kent. The groups leader, the self-styled Sir William Courtenay, who was actually John Nichols Tom, an eccentric Truro maltster, is killed along with eight of his followers. A soldier and a man helping to apprehend Courtenay are also killed in the skirmish.
June. Part IV (4) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 11–14).
June. Charles Dickens and Catherine, along with their two young children, Charley and Mary, move into 4 Ailsa Park Villas, St. Margarets in Twickenham, for a summer holiday.
June, 4. The first section of the Great Western Railway train line is opened, running 221⁄2 miles (36 km) from Paddington station in London to Maidenhead Bridge station (now Taplow station) in Buckinghamshire.
June, 18. The Newcastle and Carlisle Railway opens, the first line across England.
June, 28 (Thursday). Coronation of Queen Victoria at Westminster Abbey in London.
June, 28 (Thursday). Chartists hold a large demonstration in Newcastle. Thousands attend, one report putting the procession at least two miles long.
July. Part V (5) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 15–17).
August. Part VI (6) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 18–20).
September. Part VII (7) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 21–23).
September. Charles Dickens and family holiday on the Isle of Wight, passing through Portsmouth en-route.
September, 7. Grace Darling and her father rescue 13 survivors from the Forfarshire, off the Farne Islands.
September, 17 (Monday). The London to Birmingham railway line opens, having taken four years to build. and the railway boom begins.
September, 18. The Anti-Corn Law League is established by Richard Cobden.
September, 24. Large meeting held on Kersal Moor, Salford, in support of Chartism.
October. Part VIII (8) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 24–26).
October, 5 (Friday). Killough massacre. In the United States, eighteen settlers, including extended family members of Isaac Killough, Sr., are murdered or carried away in East Texas by Native American Cherokee Indians over a land dispute.
October, 31. Charles Dickens travels through the Midlands to Shrewsbury, staying overnight.
November. Part IX (9) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 27–29).
November. Charles Dickens resigns from the Garrick Club.
December. Part X (10) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 30–33).
December, 1 (Saturday). A less than complimentary article about the writings of Charles Dickens appears in the Morning Post newspaper, along with a review of Oliver Twist. It concludes ‘the reading of Boz is the dram-drinking of the mind‘.
December, 5. Charles Dickens visits William Charles Macready having written The Lamplighter for him.
Missing a date? if you know of any movements not covered here we would welcome letting us know, along with a reference to any source material so we can try to fill in the gaps.