Brighton is a seaside resort in the county of East Sussex, located on the south coast of England. It is 47 miles south of London. Originally a fishing and agricultural settlement, Brighton grew in popularity as a bathing resort during the eighteenth century. In 1783, the Prince Regent (later King George IV) paid his first visit to Brighton, following which he frequented the town for much of his leisure time with the commissioning of his Royal Pavilion during the early part of his Regency. Development of the town continued with the construction of a number of Georgian terraces the town is now famed for. The town’s popularity as a resort expanded further following the arrival of the London and Brighton Railway in 1841, which brought Brighton within the reach of day-trippers from London.
The Victorian author Charles Dickens is known to have visited Brighton on at least five occasions, the first two being short holiday breaks with his wife and the other three as part of national public speaking tours. He performed at Brighton Town Hall on visits in 1858 and 1861, at the Royal Pavilion as part of the 1861 tour and at the Grand Concert Hall on his last reading visit in 1868. Brighton also features as a location in several of Dickens’s works, particularly Dombey and Son.
We have attempted to put together the movements of Dickens whilst in Brighton during his visits based on material such as letters, newspaper reports and articles. There are some small gaps and we would be grateful for any information to make it into a comprehensive list.
Charles Dickens’s first visit to Brighton was in the Autumn of 1837, whilst Dickens was writing both The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist. He has taken his wife, Catherine for a short holiday break. The vacation came just five months after the sudden death of Mary Hogarth, one of Catherine’s sisters who had been living with them at their London home. It was a tragic event that affected both of them very deeply.
On 3 November of that year, Dickens wrote to close friend John Forster from Brighton, describing his time there.
It is a beautiful day, and we have been taking advantage of it, but the wind until to-day has been so high and the weather so stormy that Kate has been scarcely able to peep out of doors. On Wednesday it blew a perfect hurricane, breaking windows, knocking down shutters, carrying people off their legs, blowing the fires out, and causing universal consternation. The air was for some hours darkened with a shower of black hats (second-hand), which are supposed to have been blown off the heads of unwary passengers in remote parts of the town, and have been industriously picked up by the fishermen. Charles Kean was advertised for Othello ‘for the benefit of Mrs. Sefton, having most kindly postponed for this one day his departure for London.’ I have not heard whether he got to the theatre, but I am sure nobody else did. They do The Honeymoon to-night, on which occasion I mean to patronize the drayma.3 November 1837. Letter from Charles Dickens to John Forster (sent from Brighton).
Charles Dickens returned for a short break with his wife, Catherine in 1841. They arrived on Wednesday, 24 February and stayed seven nights at the town’s Old Ship Hotel.
Dickens returned to Brighton in 1858 to give three public readings.
The itinerary we have been able to compile during this visit to Brighton appears to be as follows:
- November 12 (Friday). Gives reading of A Christmas Carol at the Town Hall, 8pm.
- November 13 (Saturday). Gives two performances at the Town Hall. In the afternoon (3pm), Dickens reads the story of Little Paul from Dombey and Son. In the evening (8pm) he gives another public performance, with readings from The Poor Traveller, The Boots at the Hollytree Inn, and the Mrs. Gamp episode from Martin Chuzzlewit.
Local newspaper the Brighton Gazette posted a review of the visit in its edition on Thursday, 18 November 1858.
Mr Dickens is good reader, his voice is clear, and his personal appearance and manner pleasingBrighton Gazette, Thursday, 18 November 1858.
Dickens returned to Brighton again in 1861 to give another series of three public readings.
The itinerary we have been able to compile during this tour appears to be as follows:
- November 7 (Thursday). Gives the first of three readings in Brighton at the Town Hall at 8pm.
- November 8 (Friday). Gives the second of three readings in Brighton at the Town Hall at 8pm.
- November 9 (Saturday). Gives the third and final of reading at the Royal Pavillion at 3pm.
October. Dickens appeared in Brighton as part of an extensive national tour.
- October 19 (Monday). Gives reading at the New Concert Hall in West Street, 8pm. Reads Doctor Marigold and also the trial scene from The Pickwick Papers.
- October 22 (Thursday). Gives reading at the New Concert Hall in West Street, 8pm. Reads from David Copperfield and Mrs. Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit.
November. Dickens returned to the town two weeks after his last reading to give two more public performances in the early part of the month.
- November 2 (Monday). Gives reading at the New Concert Hall in West Street, 8pm. Reads from Nicholas Nickleby and also Bob Sawyer’s Party from The Pickwick Papers.
- November 7 (Saturday). Gives final Brighton reading at the New Concert Hall in West Street, 3pm. Reads from A Christmas Carol and The Boots at the Hollytree Inn.
Brighton appears in several of Dickens’s great works but particularly in Dombey and Son. In the story, the frail younger Paul Dombey is sent away to Brighton. He and his sister Florence lodge with a Mrs Pipchin, whose home ‘in a steep bye-street at Brighton’. The location is believed to be based on a house in Upper Rock Gardens. Dombey is also sent to be eduacted at Dr Blimber’s academy, which may have been inspired by one of the many private schools in the area.
Brighton also features in Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby, Sketches by Boz and an ale by the name of the Brighton Tipper is referenced in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit.