Charles Dickens - what he thought of Torquay

Charles Dickens - loved Torquay but what about its people?

Charles Dickens - loved Torquay but what about its people? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

World famous writer Charles Dickens loved Torquay and the 'Imperial' but didn't think too much about the people and local Bishop

Writer and social critic Charles Dickens liked Torquay's beauty; but he didn't like some of the people.

Charles was very familiar with Devon and often stayed with his family when visiting Exeter.

In 1836 Charles met Catherine - Exeter newspaper editor George Hogarth's daughter - during a visit and they married. They went on to have 10 children, before separating in 1858.

And he also visited Torquay on a number of occasions. He wrote of the town, 'This is a pretty place... a mixture of Hastings and Tunbridge Wells and little bits of the hills about Naples'.

Another time he did a Reading in Torquay of Oliver Twist. 'It was a great relief to get to Torquay... for the sea and sunshine'. His feet were badly swollen so he decided to stay on at Babbacombe and make a holiday.

He disliked Torquay's genteel and leisured affectation of superiority. He referred it to as 'humbug' - the town was a 'place I consider to be an imposter, a delusion and a snare'.

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One Torquay resident that Charles took a particular dislike to was Henry Philpotts, Bishop of Exeter - the owner of Bishopstowe which would become the Palace Hotel. Charles, 'stood in opposite camps in almost every issue' and condemned the Bishop: 'He has done about as much harm to real Christianity as any mere mortal could do in his lifetime'.

One long standing friend, who would come to live in Torquay, was the novelist, poet and politician Edward Bulwer Lytton.

In 1861 Charles visited Edward, bringing with him the final proofs of Great Expectations for comment. Edward thought the bleak ending would not please the public and persuaded Charles to alter it to a happier one. Lord Lytton died in his Torquay home Argyll Hall on Warren Road - now apartments called Marine Palms - in 1873.

Another long-lasting friendship was with Baroness Burdett-Coutts. In 1837 she became one of the wealthiest women in England when she inherited £1.8 million (worth over £202,000,000 today).

Baroness Coutts came to Torquay aged 42 to live at Meadfoot House, Hesketh Crescent, before moving to Villa Syracuse and then Ehrenburg House.

Ehrenburg became the Rosetor Hotel and was eventually demolished to make way for the Riviera Centre.

A profitable venture was the giving of Readings of his novels and Charles delivered a number of tours of Britain and overseas. In January 1862 he gave a Reading of David Copperfield at the Marine Spa.

In January 1869 Charles was again in town to read from Pickwick Papers at Abbey Road's Royal Theatre. He stayed at The Cove Hotel, now The Imperial. In a letter written on January 27th to his daughter Mary, he described his accommodation, 'The place is most beautiful. This hotel is an immense place, built among picturesque broken rocks out in the blue sea, is quite delicious. There are bright green trees in the garden, and new peas a foot high. Our rooms are en suite, all commanding the sea, and each with two very large plate glass windows. Everything good and well served'.

In the same letter he reported being less impressed with the Theatre, 'It is something between a theatre, a circus, a riding school, a Methodist Chapel, and a cow house. I was so disgusted with its acoustic properties on going in to look at it, that the whole unfortunate staff have been all day, and now are, sticking up baize and carpets in it to prevent echoes'.

Accompanying Charles was George Dolby who remembered the success of the event:

'The demand for tickets was enormous. The visit to Torquay looked more like a pleasure trip. . As for the public, they came in such numbers as to make the Torquay Reading memorable. The receipts amounted to £270, an amount unprecedented in the history of entertainments in the town'.

And this certainly was the final tour. Charles died the following year, 1870, at the age of 58.