‘Who wants to know what everything means? Novels are not meant to be real life, only stories to amuse us. It is wrong to take such things seriously.” “But you do take them seriously,” objected Ethel. “You read volumes and volumes of such stuff, and it’s bad for you. It fills you with all sorts of fancies and notions, that are worse than useless in this practical world.’_ The Third Chance, 1912.

Gladys Waterer was best known in her lifetime as a dramatist and leading light of the Broadstairs branch of the Dickens Fellowship from its inauguration in 1837. Her parents Clarence and Emmeline Waterer were from Surrey, where they had married in 1884. Gladys was born in Addlestone on 17 March 1885, around two years before her brother Clarence. By 1901 the family was living at 35 Northdown Avenue in Margate.

The 1939 census places Gladys back at 35 Northdown Avenue, presumably helping to look after her father, who is described as ‘incapacitated’. Emmeline Waterer would die two years later at the age of 81, and Clarence in 1943, aged 85. But from at least 1937 Gladys had been living with Dora Tattam at 2 Nuckell’s Place, the original of Aunt Betsey’s cottage in David Copperfield. For the initial Dickens festival she adapted Pickwick with Nina Boreham, followed by David Copperfield (complete with donkeys) in 1938. By 1964 she had tackled every one of the major works bar Oliver Twist, which she candidly admitted she couldn’t face living with for the eight months it would have taken to prepare a suitable play.

While her name appears only sporadically in newspapers and most often in connection with Dickens, Waterer was herself the author of at least two novels, The Third Chance (1912) and The Lady in Mauve (1931).

The Third Chance reflects her own interest in the politics of local amateur dramatic productions. Much of the tension devolves from the heroine Ethel’s triumphantly redemptive love for an alcoholic actor who once saved her from a teenage seduction and who is drafted in to make up the numbers in a provincial performance. Less than subtly disguised as Seagate, Eastgate and Haregate, the neighbouring towns of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs provide an idyllic coastal setting, inflected with a keen and often witty observation of local culture.


General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 2a; Page: 815. Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007.
General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 2a; Page: 534. Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007.
The National Archives of the UK (TNA); Kew, Surrey, England; Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911. Ancestry.com. 1911 England Census.
The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/1756G. Ancestry.com. 1939 England and Wales Register.
Oulton, Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton. Down from London: Seaside Reading in the Railway Age. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2022. Unattributed. ‘Gladys Waterer Talks Dickens at Broadstairs’. Illustrated London News. 11 March 1964,. 90.
Waterer, Gladys. The Third Chance. London: George Allen & Co., 1912.