Book shelves

Charles Dickens the Pompey Lad

I’m ashamed of what I am about to tell you – I would ask you to refrain from judgement, but I feel that’s too big a task. I have lived in Portsmouth for over 12 years now, and I didn’t realise Charles Dickens was born here…

Shocking, I know! But please, don’t stop reading just there – this realisation has taken me on a little journey, not only of our wonderful city but of the literary genius that was Charles Dickens.

I am currently in rehearsal for a musical production of one of Charles’ most loved stories – A Christmas Carol. I have the pleasure of playing The Ghost Of Christmas Past (my character was a man in the original story, but we won’t hold that against Charlie.) The Musical has lyrics by Lynn Ahren, music by Alan Menken and book by Mike Ockrent. It was released 1994 (there was even a film production of it with Frasier in it!!) Dickens, however, wrote the original novel far before Frasier even existed, a horrible time without wi-fi or phone signals – the Victorian era. Here is what I’ve discovered…

Who was he?

Born on February 7th 1812, his full name was Charles John Huffman Dickens, and he spent his early years at 1 Mile End Terrace, which is now 393 Commercial Road – you can go visit, there’s a plaque and everything! The second of eight children, his father worked for the Navy! However, The Dickens families relationship with Portsmouth was a short one as his father got called back to London in 1815.

Charles’ early years were said to be idyllic, however that all ended when Charles was ten and had to be removed from school in order to work in a factory due to his father’s imprisonment because of debt – a theme that’s clearly reflected in A Christmas Carol in Scrooge’s life, his father was imprisoned because of debts too. It is Dickens’ use of personal experience that arguably makes his writing so enticing even now – don’t believe me? Come see the show… you can get tickets here.

Despite his lack of formal education Charlie edited a weekly journal for twenty years, wrote fifteen novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories, lectured and performed extensively, and a passionate campaigned for children’s rights and education – what a man!

A Christmas Carol

It is nothing short of an honour to bring to life one of the best known Christmas stories of all time. Whether it’s thanks to The Muppets rendition of A Christmas Carol, or simply due to hearing ‘Humbug’ said at Christmas, you will undoubtedly know the tale of Scrooge’s heart melting thanks to some visiting spirits. Tiny Tim’s “God bless us everyone!” is often the first thing I hear when I tell people I’m in this show! It’s reputation leaves us, the cast, with quite the responsibility. My longing to tell do the story proud is only added to now that I know that Dicken’s and I share the same home town – I can almost imagine Scrooge moaning his way through old Portsmouth with Cratchit at his heels.

You too have a responsibility, dear reader, to our wonderful city. We have stewardship over these tales now, no-one will know of Tiny Tim and his big heart, or the terrifying ghost of Marley, or Scrooge’s heartbreak when Emily leaves him unless we tell them – we owe it to Charles himself, who was born right here at 393 Commercial Road, to not forget.

Christmas is a time to share, away from the ipad and tele. Come revel in your cities history whilst having your Christmas spirit levels maxed out at Visionworks’ Production of A Christmas Carol, running from the 16th – 19th December at The John Pounds Centre.

– Babette Shaw