Charles Dickens' Kent home to open to public for first time
The former Kent home of Charles Dickens is to open to the public for the first time on Wednesday, in celebration of the author’s 200th birthday.
Gad’s Hill Place in Higham, which is now used as an independent school, was Dickens’ final home. There he wrote Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities and Our Mutual Friend, and left behind his unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Dickens lived in the house from 1860 until his death 10 years later. He bought the property and the 26 acres of surrounding land in 1856.
The ground floor of the house is to be opened to the public for the first time on July 25, and can be visited until August 19. Until now it has been accessible only to the pupils of Gad’s Hill School, which occupies the building.
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Visitors will be able to see up close the desk at which Dickens penned his world-famous novels, as well as explore the grounds and enjoy quill writing and Victorian craft workshops.
The desk is among a cache of the author’s possessions which are being returned to Gad’s Hill Place for the duration of its opening. The items have been on show at the Charles Dickens Museum in London.
Marion Dickens, Gad’s Hill Place trustee and school governor, and Dickens’ great-great-granddaughter, said: “To be reuniting Dickens' desk with the study it was designed for is very exciting.
“We will be able to walk into that room and see it as it was in his lifetime. It will be easy to imagine that my great-great-grandfather has just risen from his morning's work and gone into the garden for a bit of fresh air and inspiration.”
Gad’s Hill Place was built in 1780 by Thomas Stevens, and was first seen by Dickens in 1817 at the age of five. He often walked passed the house with his father.
Dickens wrote in The Uncommercial Traveller: "My father has often said to me, ‘If you were to be very preserving, and to work hard you might some day come to live in it'".
After becoming a successful author, Dickens bought the house for £1,790 after negotiating down the price. In today’s terms it cost around £ 1,170,000.
He began enlarging the accommodation, improving the grounds, offices and shrubbery, and the added meadow was estimated to be worth four times the amount he had paid for it.
While carrying out improvements and repairs, Dickens inserted wooden panels in the staircase which were then hand-painted by his daughter, the artist Katey, and remain visible today.
Tickets to visit the house cost £12. The price includes a light afternoon tea served in the conservatory that Dickens filled with ferns and his favourite geranium plants. There is also a variety of events lined up, together with family and children’s activities.
A Gravesham Borough Council spokesman said: “We are delighted that artefacts from the museum in London have come home, albeit for a brief period, and we are very happy that it coincides with the Olympics”.
Florian Schweizer, the Director of The Charles Dickens Museum, said: “The opening of Gad’s Hill Place is one of the highlight events of the Dickens bicentenary year, and will make our Dickens 2012 campaign even more memorable.
“The Charles Dickens Museum is delighted to have the opportunity to show some of its collections at Gad’s Hill Place and bring alive a place so full of literary associations.”
For more information, or to book tickets to visit Gad’s Hill Place, visit www.dickensmuseum.com