|THE BIRTHPLACE OF CHARLES DICKENS|
|393 OLD COMMERCIAL ROAD PORTSMOUTH|
A brief outline of the home of one of the world finest writers
Probably the most renowned author in Britain was born 393 Commercial Road Portsmouth on February 7th 1812, this was Charles John Huffham Dickens.
He was the son of a Naval Pay Office clerk John Dickens and Elizabeth Barrow who had moved to 393 Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth a little while after their marriage in June 1809.
The house at that time was known as 1 Mile End Terrace and this was their first home together. It is a rather insignificant terraced house which looks similar to the rest of the 19th century dwellings in this quiet partially cobble back street of Portsmouth. The house was built in 1808 and the Dickens family were believed to have been the first inhabitants.
Charles was baptised at St Mary's church wish is to the rear of the house and this was once a much more rural area, but now it looks out onto dockland. Life here was not so nice as the standards of living today, there was no running water and this had to be purchased of ½d (halfpenny) a bucket from a horse and cart which used to visit. Sanitation was also bad and the toilet was probably an earth closet at the end of the back garden, lighting was either by oil lamps or candles.
The rent of £35 a year was a huge chunk out of John Dickens' annual salary of £120 and quite often he found himself in the debtors prison.
The Dickens' first child was Frances, born in 1810 and Charles was born the following February. He spent the first four months at the house in Old Commercial Road until his parents moved to cheaper accommodation at Portsea, this was later destroyed during an air raid in 1941. But before returning to London they were living in 1814, in what in those days wasa brand new suburb of Southsea.
After John Dickens was promoted they transferred to Chatham Docks in 1817 the family decided to move yet again, this time to Kent, and these were probably the best days of Charles' childhood and where he first saw Gad's Hill Place just outside of Rochester. He purchased this in 1855, but times became hard and deeply in, John was sent to prison and Charles was forced to work in a blacking factory. But he remained loyal to his father and in David Copperfield he based the spendthrift Mr Micawber on his father.
Charles often returned to Portsmouth but he never found out which house in Old Commercial Road was the one he was born in, and it was in the city that he wrote Nicholas Nickleby in 1838.
The property in Commercial Road was purchased by Portsmouth Corporation in 2903 and was made into the Dickens Museum. The house was closed for renovations in 1968 for two years then reopened as the Dickens Birthplace Museum in June 1970 just before the centenary of Dickens' death. The house has been completely refurbished and also decorated to as near as possible to the style of the lower class of Regency houses in which Dickens was born and the original furniture has been replaced with authentic replicas of the time.
The visitor on touring the house will first see the basement which is where the kitchen was situated and this is the Museum shop but the original dresser and cooking range is still there. The elegant couch on which Dickens spent his last moments at Gad's Hill Place on 9th June 1870 and his death certificate can also be seen, the certificate states that he died of apoplexy at the age of 58.
Inside a glass case there is a lock of his hair, a paper knife, paperweight, snuff box and a cut glass in-well that belonged to him and his parents rent book can also be seen, recording that they were in arrears.
The large mahogany four poster bed on which Charles was born, is also on display along with a patchwork quilt that dates around 1870, and a tallboy made by Chippendale around 1750 stands against the wall.
The museum has many exhibits including a late 18th century sofa made from beechwood, a rosewood chiffonier, (bookcase with mirrors on the backs) and an oak bureau. There are some fine Sheffield plate and the carpets were made from the College of Further Education at Kidderminster to a special design.
museum is open from April until the end of October and a small
car park can be found at the end of Old Commercial Road opposite