Charles Dickens was born at 1 Mile End Terrace in the Portsea area of Portsmouth on 7th February 1812. The house was the first married home of the author’s parents, John and Elizabeth, and they lived here for five years. The interior has been decorated to reflect the Regency style that would have been popular at the time the Dickens family lived here. Period rooms including a parlour, dining room and the bedroom where the author was born display a range of furniture, memorabilia and personal belongings including Dickens’ snuff box and the couch that he died on. Portsmouth Visitor Services also offer Charles Dickens tours around the city.
Charles Dickens came from modest beginnings and was one of eight siblings. His father was financially inept and worked as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office eventually spending six months in Marshlea Debtor’s Prison which Dickens later drew inspiration from for Little Dorrit. His mother was equally domestically inept but had aspirations above their station which led to a feeling of abandonment from Charles that may have coloured his depiction of her for the character Mrs Nickleby. The family left Portsmouth when Dickens was just 5 years old for his father to take up a post at Chatham Dockyard in Kent where for a brief time Dickens’ childhood was more peaceful in countryside surroundings and days out to Rochester.
When his family moved to London in 1822 he was sent to work in a warehouse labelling and sealing pots and at 12 he was working ten hours a day to help support the family. When his father was released from prison he intended to take Charles out of the factory but his mother insisted he continue as they couldn’t do without the money. Dickens never forgave her. It was during this time that Dickens gained first-hand experience of the horrors children experienced in the workplace, and which he later depicts in his novels. By 1824 Dickens had escaped the factory and studied at Wellington House Academy in Hampstead for three years before once again his mother pushed him out to work in a solicitor’s office which he hated but managed to turn it around to his advantage by later finding the experience a source of inspiration for his writing and by learning Gurney shorthand in three months (it was supposed to take three years to learn!) so he could branch out into journalism.
Travelling the country reporting on events gave Dickens material for his first publication the "Collected Sketches by Boz" in 1836 which were a collection of witty observations and which led on to the serialisation of his first novel "The Pickwick Papers". Dickens had a way of capturing the underside and inequality of society in an amusing but poignant way. His writing has proved so popular through the years that his books have never been out of print.