Did Dickens find inspiration in Cheshire?
IT has often been
said that Charles Dickens had a close association with Cheshire
and actually sculpted some of his stories from the characters he
met in the county.
Stanthorne Hall, near Middlewich, and the experiences of a jilted
bride there, were, allegedly, the basis for Great Expectations.
Another curious, but lesser known, connection arises from the visit
of a Mr J.H.Siddons who wrote an article for the magazine Figaro,
parts of which were subsequently printed in the Chester Courant,
of March, 1879.
Mr Siddons related that he was on his way to Northwich and at two
oclock on a wintry morning alighted at a little railway station
which, given the date, may have been Hartford or Winsford.
A tall young man accosted him and said that he had come for the
mail bag which he was to take to Northwich in six hours time.
If the traveller wished for supper, a bed and a breakfast at his
house, at a local inn, he was welcome.
So began the Christmas adventure of Mr Siddons.
"Presently at the inn," wrote Mr Siddons "a wiry
terrier stretched himself at my feet. Turning round I saw a gawky
girl with some reddish hair. The image of Tilly Slowboy was fixing
itself on my mind, when the idea was strengthened by the appearance
of a plump, round rosy little woman. Dot, by Jove, I mentally ejaculated.
"Supper finished and a brief breakfast and I was in Johns
trap bowling away to Northwich. We passed a fine old house of the
kind of architecture popularly called Elizabethan. Who lives
there? I asked. That house belongs to Mr Hogarth. Hes
in the music line.
"Hogarth, I half muttered, thats the name of Charles
Dickens father-in-law. Yes sir, it is; and Mr
Dickens do come down sometimes and hes been and put me and
all my family into a Christmas story.
"Then youre John Perrybingle? Thats
not my name, sir, and my wifes name isnt Dot; but Mr
Hogarth told me, says he Its all the same and
Molly is called Tilly Slowboy. Theres Tip too, our dog, he
has got into the book likewise."
Added Mr Siddons: "Meeting Dickens a week or two later I remarked
" 'Yes, said he, the family formed a good dramatic
personae to begin with. I added Caleb and the blind girl, because
I fell in with their prototypes
So there we have it, Mr Siddons had found the kernel of Dickens
story, The Cricket on the Hearth.
Or had he? George Hogarth lived with his numerous family in Chelsea
and there is no record of him residing in Cheshire. He was, however,
in the music-line, as a music critic for the Daily News,
What we do know is that Dickens did have a relative in Cheshire,
The family came from Staffordshire and his grandmother, old Mrs
Dickens, is said to have been the housekeeper at Crewe Hall, in
the days of John Crewe MP.
She lived there to a ripe old age and was a wonderful teller of
tales, both of fairyland and of a historical nature. She died when
Charles was twelve.
Dickens is supposed to have based his fictional characters on real
ones. Mrs Nickleby on his mother; Micawber on his father; Copperfield
on his own story etc..
In 1845, he revived a notion of establishing a new periodical.
"And I would call it, sir The Cricket.
A cheerful creature that chirrups on the Hearth."
Dickens abandoned the idea but turned it into the basis for a book
and this fairy tale of home was being played, at one time, in twelve
London theatres. With a Christmas Carol, the book was chosen for
Dickens first public readings.
Is it too romantic a notion to believe that a little Cheshire family
found their way into literary immortality?
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