While he was still living with his wife, and even after he unceremoniously turfed her out in the 1850s after their 10th baby was born, Charles Dickens and his children spent their summer holidays in Broadstairs, Kent.
High on the Broadstairs cliff top, overlooking Viking Bay, stands a tough-looking house. Originally built in 1801 and called Fort House, it was used as a coastal observation station. I can't tell if the first residents in Fort House were more interested in keeping an eye on the local smugglers or if their biggest concern was Napoleon's navy.
Bleak House, Dicken's holiday home in Broadstairs from 1837-59.
Luckily many of Dickens’ artefacts, furniture, documents and letters can still be seen at the Dickens Museum, located at Dickens House on the seafront. Visitors can see, for example, a decent collection of prints by HK Browne (Phiz), one of Dickens's principal illustrators. And a writing box, a gift from Dickens’ lifelong friend and biographer John Forster. This house had a slightly weaker connection to Dickens - it was here that Miss Mary Strong lived, the woman who became the model for Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. Did he personally visit Miss Strong in her home? I certainly hope so.
Dicken's House Museum, Broadstairs. exterior and one room with Dicken's artefacts
Some rooms in the museum deal with Victorian Broadstairs in general, rather than Dickens in particular. There are Victorian costumes, posters and photography of old Broadstairs on display. So it is appropriate that the museum should play a central role in the annual Dickens Festival each June. Locals and visitors are invited to dress-up in Victorian costumes, evoking an era when Broadstairs was a much loved holiday spot.