Dickens at Christmas
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” so the song goes. But the Christmas we know and celebrate today has largely been influenced by one man, Charles Dickens (1812-1870). It was his novella A Christmas Carol that not only brought about the revival of the Christmas holiday in Victorian Britain, but inspired several aspects of Christmas such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and generosity of spirit.
After his success with Oliver Twist, Dickens had been suffering from ‘writers block’, but after visits to the Field Lane Ragged School in the East End of London and factories in Manchester, he was resolved to ‘strike a hammer blow for the poor’. His imagination was seized by the conditions he had witnessed and he began to take long walks around London late at night. By the beginning of December 1843, A Christmas Carol was finished.
The 1841 Census gives us a glimpse of where Charles Dickens was during this period. This census recorded the occupants of every UK household on the night of 6th June 1841. It is not as detailed as the later ones, but HO 107/680/14 shows that Charles Dickens was head of the household in Devonshire Place and was aged 29. His trade or profession, etc. was described as a gentleman. It shows that he was not born in ‘the county’ (Dickens was born in Portsmouth).
Next on the Census is his wife Catherine, aged 26. In the column where it asks if you were born in Scotland, Ireland or foreign parts we can see that the enumerator has put an ’S’. Catherine was born in Edinburgh.
The children follow, with their eldest son, Charles Jnr. aged four, and Mary, aged three. Then, Catherine, one-and-a-half years old, with baby Walter, four months. Charles Dickens and his family had moved into Devonshire Terrace just before Christmas 1839 and it was here that his fourth child was born in 1841. The house was on the Marylebone Road, almost opposite the York Gate into Regents Park, London.
So the census gives us a fascinating snapshot of Charles Dickens and his family. It was in Devonshire Place that Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. But where were your ancestors living in 1841 and what were they doing? Get in contact with me at email@example.com and let me find them for you.