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.


Early. Dickens has a disappointing reunion with Maria Winter (Maria Beadnell).

January, 6 (Saturday). Charles Dickens holds a Twelfth Night celebration at his Tavistock House address, putting on a performance of The Fairy Extravaganza of Fortunio and his Seven Gifted Sons (by J. R. Planché). Amongst the cast are close friends Wilkie Collins and Mark Lemon.

January,10. Death of Mary Russell Mitford, novelist and dramatist (born in 1787).

January, 21 (Sunday). Crimean War Riot. Ten days later, Lord Aberdeen’s government falls.

January, 22 (Monday). French political exile Emmanuel Barthélemy is hanged at Newgate after being convicted of murdering a London man. Barthélemy had previously killed a fellow Frenchman in the last fatal duel in England, but has only been convicted of manslaughter on that occasion.

January, 25. Death of Dorothy Wordsworth, poet and diarist (born in 1771). She was the sister of the romantic poet William Wordsworth.

January, 29. Lord Aberdeen resigns as Prime Minister.

February, 5. Viscount Palmerston becomes Prime Minister.

February, 7. Charles Dickens’s 43rd birthday.

February, 21 (Wednesday). Rioting breaks out in the East End of London.

March, 2. Alexander II becomes Tsar of Russia.

March, 3 (Saturday). Dickens watches an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra at the Great National Standard Theatre in Shoreditch, east London.

March, 4 (Sunday). Dickens writes from Tavistock House to friend Wilkie Collins, criticising the adaptation of Anthony and Cleopatra he saw the previous night.

March, 31 (Saturday). Death of the author Charlotte Brontë (born in 1816).

March, 31 (Saturday). Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, accompanied by the Duke Cambridge and the Prince of Leiningen, visit the Crystal Palace (Sydenham) in the morning.

April, 2 (Monday). Dickens attends an annual dinner to raise funds for the General Theatrical Fund, held at the London Tavern.

April, 16 (Monday). Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France arrive at Dover at the start of visit to see Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Accompanied by Prince Albert, they travel to Windsor Castle.

April, 19 (Thursday). Queen Victoria and Prince Albert along with Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France visit the Guildhall as guests of the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London. In the evening, the party attend the Royal Italian Opera (Theatre Royal Covent Garden), watching Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. Huge sums of money were said to have been paid by people eager to gain a seat at the event.

April, 20 (Friday). Queen Victoria and Prince Albert host Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. Thousands of people line the route of the 10-carriage royal procession whilst a crowd of 40,000 are reported at the Crystal Palace.

April, 21 (Saturday). Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France depart via Dover for Paris after their short visit to England.

May, 15. The Great Gold Robbery, the theft of gold bars from a train between London Bridge and Folkestone, occurs.

June, 11 (Monday). Dickens writes a letter from Tavistock House to Samuel Morley, saying he is unable to attend the inaugural meeting of the Administrative Reform Association (on 13 June) due to prior commitments.

June, 16. Dickens puts on private performances of Wilkie Collins’s play The Lighthouse at his Tavistock House home. Four performances are mounted over subsequent nights (with a further one on 10 July at Campden House, Kensington).

June, 27 (Wednesday). Dickens gives a speech on administrative reform to members of the Administrative Reform Association, held at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London [read speech].

MEETING IN DRURY-LANE THEATRE. The third public meeting in support of the movement for obtaining a thorough reform in management and administration of all our public departments, was held evening, Drury-lane Theatre. The chair was taken by Samuel Morley, Esq., and upon the platform were Charles Dickens, Esq ; W. Scholefield, M.P.; Fras. Mowatt M.P.; Apsley Pellatt, M.P.; A. J. Otway, M.P.; J. P. Murrough, M.P.; J. A. Wise, M.P.; Major Reed. M.P.; A. J. Layard, M.P.; W. Tite, M.P., &c. The Chairman having briefly open tbe proceedings, Mr. C. Dickins presented himself, and was received with loud cheering.

Bell’s Weekly Messenger. Saturday, 30 June 1855.

June, 29 (Friday). A law removing stamp duty from newspapers comes into force, making newspapers cheaper and opening up mass market media in the United Kingdom.

June, 29 (Friday). The Daily Telegraph newspaper is launched (originally called the Daily Telegraph & Courier).

July, 10 (Tuesday). Dickens puts on a benefit performance of Wilkie Collins’s play The Lighthouse at Campden House, Kensington to raise money for the new Consumption Hospital at Bournemouth. The house had been lent for the performance by its owner, Colonel Waugh, at his London home. Waugh owned land near the new Sanatorium site and helped put on local fund raising events for the institution. After a failed business venture, Waugh was later revealed to be a swindler.

July, 31. The Limited Liability Act passes through parliament, giving protection to investors in the event of corporate collapse.

July – Oct (early). Dickens rents a house overlooking the sea in Folkestone at 3 Albion Villas. Whilst there, he would write the first chapters of Little Dorrit.

August, 30. Death of Feargus O’Connor, political radical and Chartist leader (born in 1794 in Ireland).

September, 3. The last Bartholomew Fair is held in London.

September, 9. In the Crimean War, during the Siege of Sevastopol, the Black Sea port of Sevastapol falls to the British and their allies.

October, 2 (Tuesday). The Bournemouth Sanatorium is opened. Initially designed to be a South coast branch of tbe Brompton Sanatorium, the location of the institution helped popularise Bournemouth as a health resort in the Victorian period. Charles Dickens helped raise funds for its construction by putting on private theatrical performances at his home a few months earlier (see June 16).

October, 5 (Friday). Folkestone. Charles Dickens gives a reading of A Christmas Carol in aid of the Folkestone Mechanics’ Institute, held in a carpenter’s premises.

October, 10 (Wednesday). Newspaper adverts appear for Dickens’s new work, revealing the title as Little Dorrit, to be published in 20 monthly parts, with the first instalment to be published on 30 November.

October, 16 (Tuesday). Dickens rents the top of a house at No. 49, Avenue des Champs Elysées, Paris for six months for him and his family.

November, 17. Explorer David Livingstone discovers Victoria Falls in Africa.

November, 23. Augustus Dickens, youngest brother of Charles Dickens, joins the London Freemasons.

December. Little Dorrit is published monthly between December 1855 and June 1857.

December. Part I (1) of Little Dorrit published (Book 1, Chapters 1-4).

December, 10 (Monday). Swedish singing sensation Jenny Lind, often known as the Swedish Nightingale, performs at London’s Exeter Hall. Lind was one of the most highly regarded singers of the 19th century. The Times reports ‘the hall was crammed to suffocation by an asembly almost as fashionable as in the full blaze of the Italian Opera‘. The performance is the first in a short series at Exeter Hall.

December, 19 (Wednesday). The first meeting of the newly established Metropolitan Board of Works is held at Burlington House in London. The organisation became the principal instrument of London-wide government until it was replaced by the London County Council in 1889. Joseph Bazalgette was later appointed as its first, and only, chief engineer.

December, 18 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens gives a reading of A Christmas Carol in aid of the Peterborough Mechanics Institute, held at the Peterborough Corn Exchange at 8pm. Dickens had travelled from Paris for the reading, leaving his family there.

December, 22 (Saturday). Charles Dickens gives a reading of A Christmas Carol in aid of the Sheffield Mechanics Institute.

CHARLES DICKENS AT SHEFFIELD. On Saturday evening, Charles Dickens, Esq., read his “Christmas Carol” in the Mechanics’ hall, in behalf of the funds of the institute. The hall was well filled in every part, and Mr. Dickens, on entering, was greeted with a hearty cheer. There are few writers who have obtained such world-wide popularity as Dickens, and few, indeed, possess such intimate knowledge of the varied workings of the human heart. His works abound with passages of exquisite beauty and tenderness, and in his peculiar style of humour, he is unrivalled by any living author.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph. Monday, 24 December 1855.

December, 31 (Monday). Jenny Lind performs Handel’s Messiah at London’s Exeter Hall.

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.