Charles Dickens and Hounslow
Produced by Hounslow Library Local Studies Service to mark the bicentenary of his birth
and his links with the London Borough of Hounslow
Post Chaise and Coach by Cecil Aldin, ‘Romance of the Road’, 1933
Charles Dickens would often travel through Chiswick, Brentford, Isleworth and Hounslow on his way to Bath, Bristol or Exeter. He also paid frequent visits to his friend and solicitor, Thomas Mitton, who lived in Isleworth and Hounslow for over thirty years. They met when Charles Dickens was eighteen and working as a solicitor’s clerk in Lincoln’s Inn. Thomas Mitton was a trainee solicitor there. Dickens set several scenes in his novels in the Hounslow area. Local subjects also featured in his journalism: Hounslow gunpowder mills and the waterworks by Kew Bridge (now Kew Bridge Steam Museum).
Visits to Lampton
Dickens’ friend and solicitor Thomas Mitton lived at North Villa, Lampton Road, for over thirty years. During that period Dickens visited him many times.
North & South Villas, Lampton Road
Mitton owned or leased several other properties in the area, and Dickens may also have visited him at Lampton Hall and Isleworth.
In the summer of 1838 Charles Dickens rented No.4 (now No.2) Ailsa Park Villas, St Margaret’s, which was at that time in the parish of Isleworth, though now falls within Richmond borough. While there he wrote parts of Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.
[Richmond-upon-Thames Local Studies Collection]
Dickens is believed to have known Osterley, owned by the wealthy Child family and their descendant, Sarah Villiers, Countess of Jersey. He based Tellson’s Bank, in A Tale of Two Cities, on Child’s Bank.
The London Apprentice
“... where the ghosts of Hogarth’s time seem for ever grouped around the doorway of that quaint inn, The London Apprentice.”
Charles Dickens, ‘As the Crow Flies’, in ‘All the Year Round’ (1868)
Travelling to Bath and the West Country
Dickens’ work as a journalist and parliamentary reporter took him all over the country. Before the building of the railway network, long distance travel was by stagecoach and the faster mail coaches. Stagecoach travel could be quite dangerous in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries...
Through the Open Toll-Gate, by Cecil Aldin, ‘Romance of the Road’, 1933
In Pickwick Papers (1836), Sam Weller sings this ballad
“Bold Turpin vunce, on Hounslow Heath,
His bold mare Bess bestrode-er;
Ven there he see’d the Bishop’s coach
A-coming along the road-er.
So he gallops close to the ‘orse’s legs,
And he claps his head vithin;
And the Bishop says, ‘Sure as eggs is eggs,
This here’s the bold Turpin!”
From ‘Highwayman’s Heath’, by Gordon Maxwell
Hounslow and Hounslow Heath on an 1822 map of the Brentford to Bagshot turnpike road, by Mogg.
[Hounslow Library Service]
Local scenes feature in several novels by Charles Dickens
Oliver Twist (1838) Chapter 21
“They held their course at this rate, until they had passed Hyde Park Corner, and were on their way to Kensington: when Sikes relaxed his pace, until an empty cart which was at some little distance behind, came up. Seeing ‘Hounslow’ written on it, he asked the driver with as much civility as he could assume, if he would give them a lift as far as Isleworth.
As they passed the different mile-stones, Oliver wondered, more and more, where his companion meant to take him. Kensington, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Kew Bridge, Brentford, were all passed; and yet they went on as steadily as if they had only just begun their journey. At length, they came to a public-house called the Coach and Horses; a little way beyond which, another road appeared to run off. And here, the cart stopped.
Sikes waited until he had fairly gone; and then, telling Oliver he might look about him if he wanted, once again led him onward on his journey."
The Coach & Horses, London Road, Isleworth, which featured in Oliver Twist and is still standing today.
Old print in Hounslow Library Service Local Collection
Bill Sikes and Oliver Twist. Drawing by C.G. Harper from
‘Dickensian inns and taverns’
by B.W.Matz, 1922
Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44) Chapter 13
“.... there he beheld a kind of light van drawn by four horses, and laden, as well as he could see (for it was covered in), with corn and straw. The driver, who was alone, stopped at the door to water his team, and presently came stamping and shaking the wet off his hat and coat, into the room where Martin sat. .....
`I'm going up,' observed the driver; `Hounslow, ten miles this side London’. .....
The driver's name, as he soon informed Martin, was William Simmons, better known as Bill; and his spruce appearance was sufficiently explained by his connexion with a large stage-coaching establishment at Hounslow, whither he was conveying his load from a farm belonging to the concern in Wiltshire. He was frequently up and down the road on such errands, he said ….
They jogged on all day, and stopped so often -- now to refresh, now to change their team of horses, now to exchange or bring away a set of harness, now on one point of business, and now upon another, connected with the coaching on that line of road -- that it was midnight when they reached Hounslow.”
The unnamed Hounslow coaching inn in Martin Chuzzlewit could have been any of the ten or more inns along Hounslow High Street, a source of prosperity for the town.
The last stagecoach ran in 1847, eclipsed by the opening of the Great Western Railway in 1841.
Artist’s impression of an inn yard in Hounslow, from ‘Romance of the Road’ by Cecil Aldin, 1933
Hounslow High Street, c1870,
Nag’s Head & Red Lion Inns
Hard Times (1854) Book 1, Chapter 3
“…Signor Jupe was to 'enliven the varied performances at frequent intervals with his Shaksperean quips’. Lastly, he was to wind them up by appearing in his favourite character of Mr. William Button, in the laughable hippo-comedietta of The Tailor's Journey to Brentford.”
This tale started life as a comic poem. In 1768, Philip Astley created the first circus and the first clown act, called ‘Billy Button, or the Tailor’s Ride to Brentford’. The act was based on the popular tale of a tailor, an inept equestrian, trying to ride a horse to Brentford to vote in an election. Astley impersonated the Tailor. First he mounted the horse backwards, then he fell off. The act soon became a part of every circus and is still being performed today.
Billy Button’s Journey to Brentford to Vote [Gunnersbury Park Museum]
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