A walk to discover Higham, Charles Dickens' adoptive town
In 1856, the revenue from writing enabled him to buy Gads Hill Place. As a child, Dickens had walked past the house and dreamed of living there. The area was also the scene of some events in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, and this literary connection appealed to him very much.
Thanks to his writing, he could buy the house for £1,790 and fulfil the dream he had in mind since childhood.
In its garden was a Swiss chalet in which Dickens composed his works. Here are the signs at the edge of the parish depicting Dickens’ characters.
On 9 June 1865, he was involved in the Staplehurst train accident, in which six carriages of the train on which Dickens was travelling fell off a bridge under repair; the only first-class carriage left on the bridge was the one in which the writer was standing. He remained on the scene to assist the injured, then returned to his carriage to rescue the unfinished work “Our Mutual Friend” manuscripts. Although he emerged unharmed, he could never erase this misfortune from his mind.
In the last months of 1865, he again travelled to America for a reading tour of his works. But unfortunately, his state of health worsens day by day. Eventually, he was diagnosed with an attack of paralysis. Nevertheless, he continued his reading tour in America, reading in Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore and Washington, and met Andrew Johnson, President of the United States. The following year, he had already completed 72 of the 100 public readings he intended to do. Still, his doctor, Francis Beard, strongly advised him to stop the readings on pain of severe damage to his body. However, the doctor’s recommendation had a good effect, and Dickens’ condition improved.
However, in 1870, the year of the writing of ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’, the frequency of discomfort in one foot increased. Then, on 8 June, in the comfort of his house, he was seized by a fainting spell caused by a cerebral haemorrhage.
A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads:
“To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England’s most famous author), who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, on 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed, and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world.”