A midwinter harbour walk at Broadstairs in the company of Charles Dickens

Broadstairs Dickens plaque

Broadstairs look out and Bleak House 2 Broadstairs look out Broadstairs look out and Bleak House

Broadstairs Hercules Broadstairs The Scotsman Broadstairs 2

Broadstairs North Foreland lighthouse 2 Broadstairs North Foreland lighthouse

Broadstairs features, including the harbour and the old harbourmaster’s look out. I remember a moderate-sized traditional boat that was beside the look out for many years. Does anyone know what it was?

This splendid plaque above is found on the side of Bleak House at Broadstairs, one of the many houses in the town where Charles Dickens is recorded as living – he spent many summers here with his family, and while in the town worked on some of his famous novels.

Built early in the 19th century Bleak House had previously been used by officials observing marine movements, and it certainly has a commanding view of the sea all around including the famous Goodwin Sands. I’ve read that witnessing shipwrecks on the sands contributed to Dickens’s gloomy outlook on life – which is one of the things that can make his books hard going for modern readers.

Nevertheless, Dickens’s association with Broadstairs is a matter of great pride for the locals, who celebrate it in various ways including ‘Dickens lived here’ plaques and an annual festival in which the locals dress in 19th century costume. However, it can also be the subject of some waggish humour, as the small marble plaque pictured below clearly shows: it reads ‘Charles Dickens did not live here’.

The following non-gloomy description of the town is taken from: The Letters of Charles Dickens from 1833 to 1870.

This is a little fishing-place; intensely quiet; built on a cliff whereon – in the centre of a tiny semicircular bay – our house stands; the sea rolling and dashing under the windows. Seven miles out are Goodwin Sands (you’ve heard of the Goodwin Sands!) whence floating lights perpectually wink after dark, as if they were carrying on intrigues with the servants. Also there is a big lighthouse called the North Foreland on a hill behind the village, a severe parsonic light, which reproves the young and giddy floaters, and stares grimly out upon the sea. Under the cliffs are rare good sands, where all the children assemble every morning and throw up impossible fortifications, which the sea throws down again at high water. Old gentlemen and ancient ladies flirt after their own manner in two reading rooms and on a great many scattered seats in the open air. Other old gentlemen look through telescopes and never see anything…

Broadstairs plaque 2

One thought on “A midwinter harbour walk at Broadstairs in the company of Charles Dickens”

  1. Other old gentlemen look through telescopes and never see anything…

    Very good, quite poetic, and somewhat reminiscent of Auden’s Fall of Rome

    Unendowed with wealth or pity,
    Little birds with scarlet legs,
    Sitting on their speckled eggs,
    Eye each flu-infected city.

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