Event Holidays 1852, 1855.
Places: Pavilion Hotel / 3 Albion Villas, Folkestone.
Publication/s Out of Town’, Household Words, 1855.
‘At low water, we are a heap of mud, with an empty channel in it, where a couple of men in big boots always shovel and scoop, with what exact object I am unable to say. At that time, all the stranded fishing boats turn on their sides, as if they were dead marine monsters; the colliers and other shipping stick disconsolate in the mud; the steamers look as if their white chimneys would never turn again; the green sea-slime and weed upon the rough stones of obsolete high tides never more to flow; the flagstaff-halyards droop; the very little wooden lighthouse shrinks in the idle glare of the sun.’ - ‘Out of Town’, Household Words, 29 September 18551.
Dickens stayed in Folkestone on several occasions, celebrating the Pavilion Hotel in ‘Out of Town’ in 1855, at the same time as beginning Little Dorrit during a more prolonged stay at 3 Albion Villas on the Leas. The harbour may have provided inspiration for the famous opening passage of the novel, with its description of a hot day in Marseilles with ‘no wind to make a ripple on the foul water within the harbour, or on the beautiful sea without’ (Little Dorrit 1).
Whilst he is more often associated with Broadstairs, Dickens wrote warmly about Folkestone in a number of letters from the 1840s. In 1849 he wrote to John Leech suggesting a trip to see the town, telling him that ‘I know the place itself to be a good one, and most accessible’2. In a letter to Angela Burdett Coutts in 1852 Dickens told her that he was going to Folkestone for a few days to get away from letters of introduction (a reminder that the Victorian precursor of social media involved physically meeting total strangers based on nothing more than a ‘friend suggestion’). ‘I feel as if I had been thinking my brain into a sort of cabbage net’3.
His affection for the town is obvious from his Household Words article ‘Out of Town’, in which he renames Folkestone ‘Pavilionstone’ in honour of Mr Breach, the proprietor of the Pavilion Hotel where he had stayed on previous visits and which had improved considerably since its 1808 origins as a shipbuilder’s hut on the edge of the harbour wall. Breach had been ‘so extraordinarily kind to me when I was ill’ that when he proposed buying 500 copies of the number, Dickens arranged to make a present of them 4. In 1902 the hotel chain would reissue the article as a limited edition with a beautiful cover illustration, as ‘Pavilionstone’.
In October 1855 Dickens read A Christmas Carol to the local Harveian Literary Insistute, insisting that the working men be given a lower ticket price. He must have enjoyed writing to his sub-editor in London a few weeks before this, ‘Scrooge is delighted to hear that Bob Cratchit is enjoying his holiday’5.
Writing in 1914 Charles G. Harper commented that ‘the people who made holiday at Folkestone in his time were frankly people who “went to the seaside” and descended to the beach, and sometimes even paddled in the sea, and did the like undignified things.’ Now, he complained, visitors to the Leas had nothing to do with the working class trippers who stayed in lodgings near the beach. ‘The very bands understand to a nicety the differences of ideals and outlook, and render Grieg, Wagner and classical music above, while to the Lower Road audiences they discourse strains of a simpler and more popular kind’6.
In 1865 Dickens was travelling on the Folkestone tidal train when he was involved in the rail disaster at Staplehurst.
Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 1998.
–. Little Dorrit. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 2008.
–. –. ‘Out of Town’. http://www.djo.org.uk/household-words/volume-xii/page-193.html Accessed 31 July 2018.
–. ‘Pavilionstone’. With an introduction by Percy Fitzgerald. London: the Frederick Hotels Ltd, 1902.
Oulton, Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton. Down from London: Seaside Reading in the Railway Age. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2022. Harper, Charles G. The Kentish Coast. [London: Chapman & Hall, 1914]. Classic Reprints, no details.
Storey, Graham and K. J. Fielding, eds. The Pilgrim Edition: The Letters of Charles Dickens. Volume 5: 1847-1849. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.
Storey, Graham, Kathleen Tillotson and Nina Burgis, eds. The Pilgrim Edition: The Letters of Charles Dickens. Volume 6: 1850-1852. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.
Storey, Graham, Kathleen Tillotson and Angus Easson, eds. The Pilgrim Edition: The Letters of Charles Dickens. Volume 7: 1853-1855. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.
Unattributed. ‘The Rise of the Pavilion Hotel’. Holbein Visitors’ List and Folkestone Journal. 29 April 1891. 13, 15.albio.
To John Leech, 9 July 1849. Pilgrim 5. 567-8. 568. ↩
To Angela Burdett Coutts. 3 July 1852. Pilgrim 6. 704. ↩
To W. H. Wills. 18 September 1855. Pilgrim 7. 705. ↩
H. Wills. 16 September 1855. Pilgrim 7. 704. ↩
The Kentish Coast’’. 40-1 ↩