Malton and Norton have strong and solid connections with Charles Dickens, insomuch that Charles Smithson born in York House Malton was a close friend of Dickens. The two met while Charles Smithson was training at Smithson and Dunn an associate family law firm in London. It was through the famous author's friend, Thomas Mitton, that Dickens first became acquainted with Smithson. Mitton had borrowed £1050 to buy a third share in the firm of Smithson and Dunn, in order to practice as a Solicitor Charles Dickens acted as surety for the sum and it was during these business transactions that Dickens and Smithson first met. Charles Smithson was forced to return home to Malton and take over the running of the firm following the death of his brother Henry in 1840.
Dickens travelled extensively in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America during the course of his writing, using the experiences gained as material for his books. During his English travels he would often visit his friend in Malton where he would stay with him at Easthorpe Hall.
The Yorkshire Gazette, predecessor to The Gazette & Herald, recorded on July 8 1843: "We understand that Charles Dickens Esq, the admired and talented author of 'Pickwick', etc is now on a visit with his lady at Easthorpe, the hospitable abode of Charles Smithson Esq. Solicitor, Malton, and that he has visited Old Malton Abbey and other remarkable places in the vicinity."
It is known that Dickens did a number of story-telling performances at venues in Malton, one place being a now-demolished hall in Saville Street.
Dickens spent three weeks at Easthorpe Hall in July 1843. It undoubtedly left an impression, as he related to his friend Felton "For days and weeks we never see the sky but through green boughs: and all day long, I cantered over such moss and turf that the horses' feet scarcely made a sound upon it. We performed some madnesses there; in the way of forfeits, picnics, rustic games, inspections of monasteries at night when the moon was shining."
Dickens wrote to Daniel Maclise on 6th July 1843 "For I am quite serious in saying that this is the most remarkable place of its size in England, and immeasurably the most beautiful.
He wrote or developed the ideas for a number of books in Malton with "Barnaby Rudge", "A Christmas Carol", and "David Copperfield" reputed to have referenced to, or characters from Malton. The Smithson family were informed by Dickens that their office in Chancery Lane was the model for Scrooge's Office.
Charles Dickens' younger brother Alfred Lamert, who was a railway engineer, is reputed to have lived in Hillside Cottage, Greengate, Malton and later at Derwent Cottage, Scarborough Road, Norton at the time the York-Malton-Scarborough Railway was being built. It was during this period he met and married a local girl from Strensall near York (one of the villages the line passed though).
In recent times a Dickens Festival has been held in Malton just before Christmas to commemorate the connection that the famous author had with the town.It was during this period that it was decided to re-enact an event that had taken place in December 1841 when Dickens received a huge pie sent to him by local Malton and Norton butchers : he shared it with the poor and needy. He later related in a letter to his Malton friends “There never was such a pie. We sit and stare at it and grow dizzy in contemplation of its enormous magnitude”.
Originally it was planned to make a huge pie similar to the one sent to Dickens but it was eventually decided to make a thousand small pies. On December 12th 1989 at 11am, local butchers Gavan Taylor, Dave Harrison, Peter Hogg and Alf Skinner delivered 1000 pork pies to York station. The then Mayor of Malton David Lloyd-Williams and retired butcher Fred Bower, dressed in Victorian costume set off with the pork pies for Kings Cross London where they were met by the Salvation Army who received the pies to distribute to the London poor. David Lloyd-Williams commented at the time “London and the South are supposed to be prosperous compared to the North but we do not have thousands of homeless, cold and hungry people, sleeping on the pavements in cardboard boxes. In our town there is a caring attitude to the elderly, sick and unfortunate” “This is the true spirit of Dickens and Christmas and we hope our Malton pies will encourage other northern towns to help the poor of London”
The Dickens connection is as alive today as it has been with the planning of a Dickens Museum and a Dickensian Christmas Festival as a celebration of all that is good in Malton.
Above we have a video featuring the Malton & Norton Dickensian Festival in 1996 (Filmed by Nicholas Fletcher)