Posts Tagged ‘Charles Dickens’

A guest post by London Historians member David Brown. This article was first published in London Historians Members’ Newsletter from June 2014.

I live close to Belsize Park, a largely Victorian residential suburb in North London with a tube station on the Northern Line. Walk around today and it is a rather pleasant place to live and visit – but you will also find the footprint of the earlier and rather grander history of the area, based around what was the grandest house in Hampstead. The street layout today echoes the grand gardens that were visited by
Sam Pepys and John Evelyn. It’s an area really worth visiting.

The name of the area comes from the old French “Bel Assis” or beautifully situated, referring to its geographical position on Haverstock Hill with views out over the City of London. It has had a long association with Westminster Abbey who received fifty-seven acres of Hampstead land in 1317 from Sir Roger le Brabazon, who was Lord Chief Justice for King Edward II. Westminster Abbey leased the land to a stream of different landowners, and the first grand house is thought to have been built in 1496, and became the home of the Waad family (the most famous member is probably Armigell Waad who thought to have been an early visitor to North American, travelling to Newfoundland in 1536) . The house was rebuilt several times – in 1663 by Colonel Daniel O’Neil. His son Lord Wotton improved the house by adding a large park possibly employing John Tradescant the younger to do so – it certain impressed Sam Pepys who visited on 17th August 1668 reporting the gardens “too good for the house … the most noble that ever I saw, and brave Orange and Lemon trees”, although John Evelyn by contrast was unimpressed – he found the gardens ill-kept and the soil “a cold weeping clay”. The gardens also boasted lakes made from a tributary of the River Tyburn that rises in the area.


Belsize Park on Roque’s map of 1746.

New life to the house and park came in 1704 when they were leased by entrepreneur Charles Povey. He turned the house into a public attraction, with music, dancing and gambling. The gardens were used for deer-hunting, horse racing, and even footman racing. Belsize Park became well known as a Pleasure Garden well before Ranelagh and Vauxhall Gardens opened. The Prince and Princess of Wales visited in 1721, and this stamp of approval led to huge attendances – with over 300 coaches a day visiting the gardens. The management also provided a dozen sturdy armed guards to protect visitors as they travelled between Belsize Park and London. The resort faced the same difficulties as other resorts and became known as a “scandalous and lew’d house” leading to its closure by local magistrate in the 1740s. Early maps of the area show the house and the boundary of the old house – and a painting exists showing the original estate.


View of a House and its Estate in Belsize, Middlesex 1690, b, Jan Siberechts – Tate Britain.

The house was rebuilt in 1745 as a private house. The only Prime Minister to have the misfortune to be assassinated, Spencer Perceval lived here with his family from 1798 to 1807 – he is remembered in the modern street Perceval Avenue close to this spot. The house was rebuilt again in 1812, and survived until it was demolished in 1853. It was incidentally on the route of one of Charles Dicken’s regular walks – and he wrote about a murder that took place on Cut-Throat lane – a path that skirted the park on the east.

Today there are two small remainders of the park – an old mulberry tree in the garden on the site of the house, and a part of the brick wall of the original estate (not easily visible from the public road).

Belsize Park is famous for the rather grand houses built by builder and speculator Daniel Tidey. He started building in this area in 1856, and finally overstretched himself in 1869 when he was bankrupted. Tidey houses are large (6 to 8 bedrooms), typically semi-detached villas and were built for well-off people such as merchants, and professionals. They were built to a fairly standard design with white stucco, and many have a large bay at the back in the main reception rooms – a Tidey introduction intended to be used for the grand pianos that were become widely used in this period.


Typical Daniel Tidey “Belsize Park” houses.

The House and Park became Belsize Square – a large rectangular space, surrounded by Tidey Houses, with the local church at the north end . The church St Peter’s Belsize Square (architects J P St Aubyn and W Mumford) was completed in 1859. The name of the church is linked to Westminster Abbey – as it provided the land. The church was largely paid for by the first Vicar – Rev Dr Francis Tremlett, who also paid for the building of a massive vicarage (now demolished) at the southern end of the Square. Tremlett is an interesting character – travelling to the US when young to preach to the poor, he met his wife who provided his money, returned to the UK to become Vicar of St Peter’s, and remained Vicar for overr over 50 years. He was quite a character, being one of the strongest supporters of the South in the US Civil War. He was a key player lobbying the government to support the South, and the vicarage became known as “The Rebel Roost” as many Confederate Officers spent time staying with him in Belsize Park – including the Admiral and Officers of the CSS Alabama when it was sunk off the coast of Cherbourg in 1864. After the war he was visited by Andrew Davis the Confederate President.

To learn more about the local area, it is very well documented, and you can read about the details in the Streets of Belsize edited by Peter Woodford and revised by Christopher Wade, Camden History Society, 2009. The area also benefits from two local history DVDs, The Belsize Story Volume 1 and Volume 2 both with commentary by Fiona Bruce, and produced by film producer David Percy.

David Brown is a historian, genealogist and London Walking Guide. David is also available to provide customised tours of many parts of London including the Belsize Park area. Camden Tour Guides Association runs regular tour guiding courses, and the next one will start in September – we welcome any historians who are interested in the London Borough of Camden, and would like to learn guiding techniques. You can find out more and apply at camdenguides.com.


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So wrote Charles Dickens in Bleak House.

In this Guest Post, Owen Davies and Louise Falcini from University of Hertfordshire explain how justice was conducted in the pubs of London during the 18C and 19C.  These are programme notes for our re-enactments of the Petty Sessions and the Coroner’s Inquest tonight and tomorrow evening at the George On the Strand. There are places available if you’re quick.

The inn or pub was central to the effective administration of local justice in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – until the rise of police courts. In many communities the inn or pub was the only readily-available, large, indoor space where public events could take place. So auctions were commonly held in pubs and so were the petty sessions (the forerunner of magistrates’ courts) and coroners’ inquests. The proceedings were normally held in an upstairs or back room of the pub, sometimes with their own entrances so that the magistrate or coroner need not pass through the beery throng. But the sounds of conviviality and the smell of alcohol and tobacco smoke would have pervaded the proceedings. Pub justice was a nice little earner for the landlord, who benefitted from payment for the room and the increased custom petty sessions and inquests invariably brought, with locals and thirsty witnesses quenching their curiosity and thirst.

Petty Sessions

Local justice scenarios provided rich pickings for satirists and cartoonists.

Petty sessions were presided over by Justices of the Peace (magistrates) in the counties, gentlemen and local squires of social and financial standing, and in urban Middlesex merchants and tradesmen. For much of the 18th century the position was unpaid, for some the prestige of being a royal officer was enough, for others there was a necessity to charge fees leading to the Middlesex epithet of a ‘trading justice’. In London, the Middlesex Justices Act of 1792 created stipendiary or paid magistrates with salaries of £400 a year. The rest of the country followed suit in later decades. The Justices did not need to have formal legal training and printed guides were available to ensure they knew their remit and the parameters of their power. They sat without a jury and could dispense small fines, order whippings, impose time at the Bridewell or House of Correction (an institution in which inmates would perform some kind of menial work or hard labour), bind individuals to keep the peace, or merely publicly admonish an individual. More serious cases would be sent to the Quarter Sessions, also presided over by a panel of magistrates, but with a jury. Serious offences were dealt with at the Assizes, although in Middlesex and the City of London these cases were heard at Gaol Delivery Sessions held at the Old Bailey.

Petty Sessions

Inquests were not trials but the proceedings resembled them. They were presided over by a coroner and not a magistrate. Coroners, mostly lawyers by training, were required to enquire into the circumstances of a sudden or suspicious death and to investigate its cause. Inquests were held very quickly after death. The Coroner would issue a warrant to summon 24 ‘able and sufficient men’ to act as jurors. From these local men 12 would be selected and empanelled to form the jury. The coroner and jurors would be required to ‘view’ the body before they began to hear evidence. Unlike at a criminal trial, the members of the jury had the right to question witnesses. If the jury decided on a verdict of murder or manslaughter, then the case would be brought to the Assizes or for cases arising in the City of London and Middlesex – the Old Bailey.

Owen Davies & Louise Falcini
University of Hertfordshire, September 2013

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shakespeare's local pete brownVisit the George Inn in Southwark and you’ll see copies of this recently-published book in the window. In reviewing this book, I am also reviewing the pub. We say pub, back in history there was clear distinction between ale house (drink only), tavern (food and drink) and inn (drink, food, accommodation). In its day it was par excellence an inn, a place where its functions were at one time or another spectacularly varied: hotel; restaurant; stables; playhouse; hop exchange; warehouse; post office, and much of the time simultaneously.

But today it is very much a pub; a pub which occupies about a quarter of its original real estate, the section which runs along what was the southern side of the old inn. It is down an alley off Borough High Street and you would miss it if you were not seeking it. The first section retains the galleried aspect which once would have run around the whole courtyard. Inside, it is as you might expect, all low ceilings and wooden beams. Plenty of wood. It is divided into small sections: about four bar/lounge bits and a restaurant bit at the far end. The walls are decorated with old photos and etchings of the inn, former denizens and worthies of the local area. There is in a frame a life assurance policy belonging to Charles Dickens. For he drank here, as did Churchill and Attlee.

Because this is a listed building under the aegis of the National Trust, there are no tellies, juke boxes, gambling machines or piped music. This is how it should be and makes for good ambience and conversational environment, almost totally lacking in pubs today. The brewery is Greene King, who don’t make fantastic beer in my opinion, but they do make a George Ale (4%) exclusively for this pub, which is not bad at all. Two pints came in at under £8 (sorry, wasn’t paying attention to my change), which is okay by me for what is supposedly a tourist trap situated in a “yuppie playground” – the author’s description of Borough today.

george in southwark

george in southwark

The George was neither the largest nor most famous of Southwark’s dozen-plus coaching inns (that accolade goes to the now-lost Tabard next door, as featured in Canterbury Tales). But it is the only surviving one, and that is what matters. In any case, it has a terrifically rich history in its own right. Pete Brown, ad industry escapee and award-winning beer writer* has written its biography. As befits the subject matter, he has a breezy style with occasional asides direct to camera. That’s not to say he doesn’t take his subject deadly seriously, he does. Shakepeare’s Local is thoroughly researched, taking forward past attempts by others which were eccentric at best, chief of whom one William Rendle.

The building of which the current George is a remnant, dates from 1676 following two disastrous fires which destroyed its predecessors. This was about half way through its life story taking us back to 15C pre-Tudor times. Brown invites us to ponder the “Trigg’s broom” (or Sugarbabes) question: is something whose fabric has been 100% replaced, still essentially the same thing? Being of romantic mien, he concludes yes, today’s George Inn can indeed be considered the same beast as its medieval great-great-grandparent and intervening iterations.

In this book, we learn what the pub was for, what it did and the people who lived in it, ran it, and crossed its portals. But as a well-rounded history book, we have context, that is to say the inter-relationship between the inn and Southwark, Southwark and London and indeed further afield. How the fortunes of the George and its owners waxed and waned through triumph and disaster; at the height of its success during the short-lived coaching age and rapid decline and redundancy with the coming of the railways and the opening of the magnificent hop exchange nearby (eclipsing all neighbouring inns’ ability to function as hop exchanges themselves); why the George survived (sort of), while all its rivals perished.

Most importantly for me, there are the heroes of this story: the George’s landlords and landladies down the ages. They all had something in common: dedication to and love of their charge, which goes some way to explaining its survival. All remarkable and determined innkeepers, special mention must go to the formidable Agnes Murray who worked at the George from 1871 to 1934, from barmaid to landlady.

Shakespeare’s Local has a few dozen illustrations. Old photos and engraving, but most handy of all – maps and plans. Of these the most remarkable is a re-drawn rendering from the earliest known map of Southwark, dating from 1542. You could line this up with the equivalent from the latest London A to Z and it would make almost perfect sense.

The book is lightly footnoted on the actual pages to which they refer, not at the back. I far prefer this. There is a good bibliography at the back and a detailed and useful timeline. But no index, unfortunately.

An excellent, informative read.

Shakespeare’s Local. Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub (352pp) by Pete Brown (2012, Macmillan) has a cover price of £16.99 but is available for around £11.

* Picture the scene. “So, Brown, what plans do you have for after you’ve left school?” “I wish to be a beer writer, sir.” “Get out.”

george inn southwark

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henry mayhew

Henry Mayhew in old age: kindly walrus.

Today is the bicentenary of Henry Mayhew (25 November 1812 – 25 July 1887).

“I think you will agree to be one of the most beautiful records of the nobility of the poor; of those whom our jaunty legislators know nothing. I am very proud to say that these papers of Labour and the Poor were projected by Henry Mayhew, who married my girl. For comprehensiveness of purpose and minuteness of detail they have never been approached. He will cut his name deep.”

This was written in 1850 by Douglas Jerrold, Mayhew’s friend, collaborator and father-in-law at a time when Henry Mayhew would have been collating the first edition of London Labour and the London Poor (1851). Jerrold was mainly wrong, because today Mayhew is all but forgotten. This is a great pity, because the writer was hugely influential in his own time, not least among his near-exact contemporaries, Charles Dickens (b 1812) and William Makepeace Thackeray (b1811). Mayhew, a journalist (he and Dickens both worked as reporters for the radical Morning Chronicle), novelist, playwright and comic writer, was responsible for telling historians a great deal – probably most – of what we know about the lives of the poor and destitute in London in the mid-19th Century. He not only provided heart-rending (albeit far from relentlessly unamusing) pen-portraits of the poorest men, women and children eking out an existence in the streets: he provided his own estimates and data as to their numbers, earnings etc. – the curtain-raiser if you will to Charles Booth’s work a generation later.

That’s his value to the historian. But Mayhew’s greatest achievement, one might argue, was to co-found Punch magazine in 1841, with Mark Lemon and Stirling Coyne. Although he only remained actively involved with the publication for a handful of years, it thrived and survived right down to our own times.

henry mayhew portrait

Henry Mayhew illustration from the 1851 edition of London Labour and the London Poor, looking like an avuncular panda.

Unlike Dickens, Mayhew joined the world with every advantage. His stern father, Joshua Mayhew, was a barrister. Henry was one of seventeen children and was sent to Westminster School. He was expected to follow Mayhew senior into the Law, as were his brothers: only one of them did. The upshot was that Henry could expect little financial support from that quarter. Indeed he had money worries throughout his life, actually going bankrupt in 1846.

I’m pleased to see that Mayhew has been added to the list of famous Old Westminsters since last I looked. My favourite Mayhew story is of how he came to leave the school. In 1827 (he would have been almost 15), Mayhew was caught swotting from his Greek primer in Chapel. This was not through diligence on his part:  he’d left things far too late and had been warned he was bound to fail the Greek “challenge”. The Master who caught him – one Hodgson who had a nephew scheduled to take the same paper – demanded that Mayhew write out 500 lines of Virgil by the following day. Mayhew ignored the demand and did quite well in the Greek challenge, beating Hodgson’s nephew. The affair was escalated to a more senior master, a Dr Goodenough. This master gave Mayhew an extension for the lines, but once again the boy failed to do them because he now had to cram for the Latin “challenge”, in which he came top. Exasperated, Goodenough – who seemed to be a likeable man – told Mayhew that he would have to flog him. Mayhew is reported to have replied: “…you know that I am not afraid of a flogging, for you have often flogged me, but this time I will not be flogged.” And with that he gathered up his books and walked out of the school. He went to sea. This incident sums up Mayhew – his brilliance, his impetuosity, his bravery. My thanks to Christine Reynolds, Assistant Keeper of Muniments at Westminster Abbey for finding and sharing this lovely story.

Thackeray’s 200th birthday last year passed almost without notice. There have been bits and bobs this year to commemorate the bicentenaries of  Augustus Pugin and Edward Lear. As for Dickens, well it’s been almost non-stop (apart from the Dickens Museum which has bizarrely been closed for upgrades since Easter). And Henry Mayhew? Nothing that I know of. So this evening a small group of us shall be raising a glass to his Life and his Memory. Join us at the Lyceum Tavern in the Strand from about 5pm!


Well, with no expectations either way, about a dozen Mayhew admirers turned up for our little celebration in proper London Historians fashion. We did an appropriate toast and enjoyed a good several hours talking Mayhew and much else besides. Thanks to all those who came, especially Colin del Strother who brought his full set of LL&LP to park in the middle of us like a sacred text. But let’s not get too carried away!

london historians henry mayhew

london historians henry mayhew

henry mayhew london historians



Mayhew, Henry . London Labour and the London Poor, volume 1, University of Virginia
Henry Mayhew on Wikipedia
Henry Mayhew on Spartacus Educational
Henry Mayhew on Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required or via participating public libraries: I get mine via Hounslow).
The Life of a Mudlark, 1861 from Spitalfields Life
Mayhew on Costermongers at VictorianLondon.org

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A quote from the opening sentence of a Charles Dickens article of 1853. It refers to the entry form at the Foundling Hospital which carries the words The <Blank> Day of <Blank> Received a <Blank>Child. The near contemporary form, below, illustrates this perfectly. Note the Note: The sad truth is that fewer than one in a hundred children were ever reclaimed by their parent (almost invariably the mother).

Receipt for a child received into the Foundling Hospital

Receipt for a child received into the Foundling Hospital, 30 April 1855. © Coram

The signature is of John Brownlow (1800 – 1873), the Secretary of the hospital and himself a Foundling. He and Dickens were friends and collaborators. For a time the author lived just around the corner in Doughty Street, and he and Mrs Dickens rented pews in the Foundling chapel until they moved too far away for this to be practical. There is a letter from Dickens to this effect on display.

The Foundling Hospital for unwanted young children and babies was founded a century previous by Captain Coram with support from Hogarth, Handel and other London worthies. This new exhibition – Received, a Blank Child – fast forwards a century to show us what the institution was like in the Victorian period and it tells us about the people involved, primarily Brownlow and Dickens. Hence this is a most appropriate show to wrap up Dickens’s bicentenary.

Reproduction of ŒJohn Brownlow as an Old Man¹, c.1870 b

John Brownlow as an Old Man, 1870.

Dickens cited or used foundlings in his work on several occasions:

In the halls of the blank children, the Guards forever March to Finchley, under General HOGARTH.
–  from Received, a Blank Child

Dickens here, of course, referring to the Hogarth masterpiece still on display at the museum (and a favourite of mine). Elsewhere we see:

…the originator of the Institution for these poor foundlings having been a blessed creature of the name of Coram, we gave that name to Pet’s little maid.
– from Little Dorrit

We name our foundlings in alphabetical order. The last was an S, – Swubble… This was a T, – Twist. I named him.
– from Oliver Twist

The clock of the new St Pancras Church struck twelve, and the Foundling, with laudable politeness, did the same ten minutes afterwards…
– from Sketches by Boz

The little foundlings has such red noses this morning, that it made one colder to look at them.
– letter to Angela Burdett-Coutts

The exhibition comprises books, pamphlets, letters and artwork as they relate to the hospital, Brownlow and Dickens. We have an example of one of the Secretary’s daughter Emma Brownlow’s sentimental (though nicely executed) paintings. The museum owns many but this is one of four which are normally on permanent display. Note Hogarth’s March of the Guards to Finchley painting referenced within it. Super.

The Foundling Restored to its Mother, 1858, by Emma Brownlow King (1832-1905) © Coram

The Foundling Restored to its Mother, 1858, by Emma Brownlow King (1832-1905) © Coram

jw gleadall

Plaster bust of Rev JW Gleadall (1815 – 91) whom Dickens praised for his ministry at the Foundling Hospital

This is a well-curated, thoughtful and moving exhibition. It has a relatively short run, so don’t miss it.

Received, a Blank Child: Dickens, Brownlow and the Foundling Hospital runs until 16 December 2012. Entry is free with museum admission which is £7.50.  Museum admission is free to Friends and Art Fund Members.

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dickens's london peter clarkThis is a lovely little book, literally. Although hardback and lacking a dustjacket, it is covered in crimson cloth with smart, white embossed lettering, used sparingly. Set in the centre is a glossy image of  a very young Dickens. The inside front and back covers are decorated with 19th Century Ordnance Survey mappage from Putney in the West to Greenwich in the East. The book is four inches by eight inches, perfect for the coat or jacket pocket. This is important, because Dickens’s London is essentially a guidebook, with five Dickens-related walks in Central London, minutely described.

But that’s not all. The book has an impressive Introduction and – after the descriptions of the walks – a chapter on London suburbs and how they relate to Dickens and his life and works: Camden Town, Chelsea, Greenwich, Hampstead, Highgate and Limehouse.

Dickens’s London tells us all about the houses, factories, inns, streets, churches and offices that existed in the novelist’s lifetime and what exists in these places today. Sometimes they relate directly to Dickens’s life, but mostly they reference in scholarly detail the part played by these sites in the novels, how they affected and were populated by the dramatis personae of the books: there is hardly a character from the canon who doesn’t get a mention. The author quotes the relevant passages by Dickens, which are set in bold type. It is worth mentioning here that the content pages of the book, like the cover, are very nicely laid:  simply designed and set (in Garamond, for those interested in typography).

It is clear that author Peter Clark is no Dickens bandwagon-jumper. His knowledge of the works and how they relate to London geography is immense. But he wears his scholarship lightly, making the book both a joyful and easy read. It can be used as a reference work in its own right or – as intended – a book one can use on one’s own Dickens voyage of discovery. And it really doesn’t matter if, like me, you are a bit of a Dickens dunce: it makes you want to learn more about the great man. So for aficianados and L-plate drivers alike, I warmly recommend Dickens’s London as a fabulous companion guide.

Dickens’s London (130 pp) is published on 16 February by The Armchair Traveller at bookHaus, cover price £9.99, although available at around £7.00.

Free Dickens Walk
Author Peter Clark is conducting a free guided walk on 21 February at 2pm, starting at Lincoln’s Inn.

The above-mentioned guided walk is done, and it was delightful. There were about 20 of us, great turn-out. Peter showed us around Lincoln’s Inn and Inner and Middle Temple. All the legal stuff, so plenty of Bleak House references. His guiding style, like his prose, is relaxed, accessible and engaging. Afterwards, we went to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street for a bit of a social. Peter’s publisher presented him with a handsome bust of Charles Dickens. It was a pleasure getting to know the author. Turns out among other things Peter is an Arabic translator and an expert on Byzantium and the Near East, in particular Syria, where he lived for five years in the 1990s.

Peter Clark

Peter Clark

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william makepeace thackerayWhile I plan to quaff at the bar of Dickens-mania with the best of you, I shall probably not become too deeply involved as such. My Dickens knowledge is pitiful, I shall probably simply use the anniversary as an opportunity for self-improvement Dickenswise.

While the 2012 Dickens anniversary is enjoying the full blast of publicity, many may not  have noticed that 2011 was the 200th birthday of William Makepeace Thackeray, who was born in India, on 18 July. He died this very day – Christmas Eve – unexpectedly from a stroke at his Brompton home in 1863. He was buried at Kensal Green, then quite a new cemetery. And he was hence as close as possible a contemporary of Dickens.

Dickens and Thackeray had a rather odd relationship that was heavily tinged with rancour. That these two titans were literary rivals was inevitable. They were careful to praise each other publicly in print. But Dickens, writing about Thackeray after his death, nonetheless still managed to have a pop:

We had our differences of opinion. I thought that he too much feigned a want of earnestness, and that he made a pretence of under-valuing his art, which was not good for the art that he held in trust.

Thackeray for his part, had said about Dickens in a public lecture:

I may quarrel with Mr. Dickens’s art a thousand and a thousand times, I delight and wonder at his genius.

Essentially it seems that these men grudgingly admired each other’s work, but as we can see, differences were clear. Things came to a head in 1858, but there had been an atmosphere in London literary circles for at least a decade, mainly indirectly between Thackeray and Dickens’ chief supporter and friend, John Forster. The two men traded insults in print on and off through the period, Forster’s position being that the author was “as False as hell”. The rancour was presented as differences in literary thought – all very academic – but seemingly was anchored in the different backgrounds and social status of the men concerned – Thackeray being born into solid middle-class stock whereas Forster and Dickens – as is well enough known – knew true poverty and had to make their own way in life.

But things came very sticky in 1858 over two incidents. In the immediate aftermath of Dickens’ separation from his wife Catherine, Thackeray found himself having to refute that Dickens was having an affair with his (Thackeray’s) sister-in-law, but not without letting on that Dickens was in fact seeing an actress, a situation that was both true and would have been considered decidedly infra dig in the day. The second – and probably more serious – incident became known as the Yates affair. A young writer called Edmund Yates attacked Thackeray in print, questioning the author’s integrity. Yates, a friend of Forster and Dickens, was expelled from the Garrick and despite support from his two friends, his appeals were rejected both by the club and in court. Thackeray was a big noise in clubland, including as a long-standing member of the Garrick.

A matter of weeks before his death, Thackeray is said to have bumped into Dickens at the entrance to the Athenaeum Club and shook his hand. We’d like to think that they had made their peace.

Both of these giants have long since taken – and kept – their places in the Pantheon of English literature. But before the New Year fireworks for 2012 light up the London sky for Dickens’ year and all that follows, do remember to raise a glass for William Makepeace Thackeray in celebration of his anniversary year.

Source: Virtually all of this from William Makepeace Thackeray by Peter L. Shillingsburg in the Dictionary of National Biography.

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