Thursday, March 11, 2010

Campaign to save Charles Dickens's writing chalet underway

Charles Dickens is one of that elite subset of shedworkers who can be described more accurately as a chaletworker: he wrote A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend and much else besides (he didn't finish The Mystery of Edwin Drood in here too on his deathbed) in a wooden chalet which was originally built in the grounds of his Gadshill home in Kent but which was subsequently moved in nearly 100 sections to Eastgate House in Rochester.

According to his biographer John Forster:
"Dickens constructed a passage beneath the road from his front lawn; and in the shrubbery thus rendered accessible, and which he then laid out very rettily, he placed afterwards a Swiss châlet presented to him by Mr. Fechter, which arrived from Paris in ninety-four pieces fitting like the joints of a puzzle, but which proved to be somewhat costly in setting on its legs by means of a foundation brickwork. "It will really be a very pretty thing," he wrote (January 1865), "and in the summer (supposing it not to be blown away in the spring), the upper room will make a charming study. It is much higher than we supposed." Once up, it did really become a great resource in the summer months, and much of Dickens's work was done there."
But the chalet - a present from actor Charles Fechter - is in need of repair as much of the wood is rotting away and the Rochester and Chatham Dickens Fellowship is aiming to raise £100,000 before the bicentenary of the author's birth in 2012 to get it looking spick and span (rather like it looks below not long after it was built).
There's a nice video of the chalet on the BBC site and if you want to contribute to the restoration fund, you can send cheques payable to the Rochester and Chatham Dickens Fellowship (Chalet Fund) to 27 Amethyst Avenue, Chatham, Kent ME5 9TX.
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  1. This Chalet (very nice shed) was given to Dickens by the renowned 19th Century actor Charles Fechter. Shakespeare provided Fechter with the material that provided the wealth that provided the space (and peace) that Dickens used to write much of Dickens' later works. Funny world!