Bonchurch is a small village to the east of Ventnor, on the southern part of the Isle of Wight, England. The Victorian writer Charles Dickens holidayed here with his family.
In the late 1830s and onward, the hitherto rural Bonchurch was extensively developed for exclusive private villas, following land acquisition and sale by the parish priest, Reverend James White. White had married Rosa Hill, heiress to the manor of Bonchurch, and subsequently obtained a private local Act of Parliament to overturn parts of his father-in-law’s will forbidding development and breakup of the estate.
In the mid to late 19th Century, Bonchurch developed into a fashionable centre for writers and artists. Celebrated Victorians such as Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Thomas Babington Macaulay came here and stayed in large villas that they rented, often for the season.
Charles Dickens and Bonchurch.
Charles Dickens brought his family and spent the Summer of 1849 at Bonchuch. He stayed at Winterbourne House, the home of Rev. White. White was also an author and mixed with literary circles in London which is likely to have led to Dickens introduction. The Dickens family stayed at Winterbourne from mid-July to early October of that year. At the time of holidaying in the Isle of Wight, Dickens was working on his novel David Copperfield, parts of which were written at Bonchurch.
Upon taking the house he wrote to his daughter Catherine (Kate) the following short letter:
Shanklin, Isle of Wight, Monday Night, June 16th, 1849.
My dear Kate,
I have but a moment. Just got back and post going out. I have taken a most delightful and beautiful house, belonging to White, at Bonchurch; cool, airy, private bathing, everything delicious. I think it is the prettiest place I ever saw in my life, at home or abroad. Anne may begin to dismantle Devonshire Terrace. I have arranged for carriages, luggage, and everything.
The man with the post-bag is swearing in the passage.
P.S.—A waterfall on the grounds, which I have arranged with a carpenter to convert into a perpetual shower-bath.
During that Summer, Dickens entertained many notable figures at Bonchurch including William Makepeace Thackeray, Justice Thomas Talfourd, Thomas Carlyle, Alfred Tennyson, Douglas Jerrold and Mark Lemon.
Dickens and friends were reported as enjoying a number of parties and games held on the beach.
The visit to Bonchurch clearly had a longer lasting impact on the two eldest daughters of Charles Dickens, Mary and Catherine (Kate), who returned in January 1862 as bridesmaids in the wedding of Rev. White’s only surviving daughter, Clara. The wedding was held on Wednesday, 8 January 1862 at Bonchurch Church with a reception and evening ball held at Sea View. Rev. White died less than three months after the occasion.