WHAT THE DICKENS!!!
The Charles Dickens (Malton) Society is a local volunteer group: its main aim is to raise the profile of the Dickens connections with the town.
Malton has strong links with Charles Dickens - all stemming from his close friendship with Charles Smithson, a solicitor based at offices in the town’s Chancery Lane. Smithson first met Dickens while he was in London as part of his legal training. A lifelong friendship ensued and there are echoes of the Malton connection throughout Dickens’ work.
Over time, Dickens met other people connected with Smithson. John Brodie in Nicholas Nickleby, is modelled on Richard Barnes, a Barnard Castle attorney. Dickens visited Malton many times. In July 1843 he stayed for three weeks at Easthorpe Hall, Smithson’s home near the town. He was clearly much taken with the place (sadly now no more), for he wrote: “For I am quite serious in saying that this is the most remarkable place of its size in England, and immeasurably the most beautiful.” The Yorkshire Gazette reported at the time that Dickens and his wife had also visited Old Malton Abbey “and other remarkable places in the vicinity”.
Dickens wrote part of Martin Chuzzlewit while staying in Yorkshire. Sairey Gamp is reputed to be modelled on Smithson’s housekeeper at the time. He also met a Mrs Jump and her husband, living close to what is now Middlecave Road. It is believed she was the model for Mrs MacStinger in Dombey and Son. Rumour has it that on one occasion Dickens arrived from London by horse-drawn coach at the Talbot inn, only to find no suitable onward transport available. Undeterred, he chartered a hearse to travel on to his destination.
It is known that Dickens entertained an audience at the theatre (now no more) in Saville Street. His brother, Alfred Lamert Dickens (a railway engineer) had an office in the Market Place and lived at Hillside Cottage in Greengate and later at Derwent Cottage, Scarborough Road, Norton.
Mr Spenlow (of Spenlow and Jorkins in David Copperfield), is modelled on Charles Smithson. When Smithson died, at the age of 39, Dickens attended the funeral in Malton, leaving York by post-chaise at 7.00am and arriving just in time at 9.30am. Like Spenlow in the novel, Smithson failed to leave a will and we know from a letter Dickens wrote to his wife that he helped in the search for a will, both at the Chancery Lane offices and at Smithson’s final home, Abbey House, behind St Mary’s Priory Church in Old Malton.
Dickens told the Smithson family that the Chancery Lane offices were the model for Scrooge’s counting house in A Christmas Carol, and that the church bells which feature so prominently in the novel were those of St Leonard’s on Church Hill.
So why not visit Malton and see some of the places mentioned. As you walk the streets, admiring the remarkably well-preserved town centre buildings, you can rest assured you are re-tracing the steps of England’s most celebrated author.
Acknowledgement: the material in this article is based on the book “Charles Dickens: the Malton Connection” by Ian Wray, great, great, great nephew of Charles Smithson.