Exeter Civic Society

Exeter Civic Society

Parents of Charles Dickens

The plaque is on the front of Mile End Cottage, Church Road, Alphington.

It reads:

Here lived the parents of Charles Dickens, 1812 – 1870

The dates are those of Charles Dickens’s birth and death. He rented the cottage for his parents in March 1839 and they stayed there for three and a half years.

John Dickens

CHARLES DICKENS’S PARENTS, JOHN AND ELIZABETH, together with their youngest son Augustus, lived in the cottage from 1839 –1842. Dickens’s relations with his father were strained. Due to his total incapacity to deal with his personal finances he spent a period in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison and young Charles, aged 12, consequently suffered the ignominy of having to quit his education and earn his keep in a shoe-blacking factory. It is believed that the improvident character of Mr Micawber in David Copperfield was based on John Dickens.

Elizabeth Dickens

As a move to get his father away from the temptations of the metropolis, Charles Dickens, by now a highly successful novelist, took out the lease in 1839 of Mile End Cottage in Alphington, now on Church Road, at £20 a year.

Dickens knew Exeter well. In a letter to his friend and later biographer John Forster dated 9 March 1839, Dickens wrote: “I took a little house for them this morning, and if they are not pleased with it I shall be grievously disappointed. Exactly a mile beyond the city on the Plymouth road there are two white cottages: one is theirs and the other belongs to their landlady.  … there is an excellent parlour with two other rooms on the ground floor, there is really a beautiful little room over the parlour which I am furnishing as a drawing room and there is a splendid garden … the place is clean beyond description and the neighbourhood I suppose the most beautiful of English counties.”

However, John Dickens soon pined for the lure of London and moved back there with his wife in 1842. He continued to run up debts which his son had to honour, and for a while, in exasperation, Charles Dickens cut off all contact with his father.

It is said that Dickens wrote the opening chapters of Nicholas Nickleby in Mile End Cottage. JW