Published: 00:01, 11 March 2015
Charles Dickens was subject to bullying and intimidation by drunken neighbours in his home village of Higham, including an attempt to wreck his carriage.
New research by historian and journalist Andrew Rootes, editor of Bygone Kent, has uncovered several incidents in which the world-famous novelist was targeted by locals.
The most serious happened one night in June 1862 when labourer James Stedman dragged two grass rollers across the road.
He and fellow labourer James Munn had spotted Dickens’s carriage on its way to the station to pick up the author.
Stedman wheeled the heavy rollers into the middle of the road, where they would have been all but invisible in the darkness.
"Generally I think people were quite happy to have him in their midst - and there were some who would have liked the kudos of having one of the most famous people of the day living in the village” - Historian Andrew Rootes
Fortunately, a local gardener called William Phillips discovered the rollers in the road “and stood by them to give the alarm should any vehicles come up. He afterwards assisted in removing the obstruction out of the way”.
The South Eastern Gazette reported at the time: “A little distance on he found two rollers lying across the road, which, had they not been perceived in time, would have caused serious mischief. James Munn, a fellow workman of the prisoner, had accompanied Stedman from Strood to Higham by the 9.30 train, and when passing through the village saw Mr Dickens's carriage drive down to the station.
“The prisoner immediately afterwards went into a field and drew the two rollers across the road to upset the carriage on its return. Munn at the time held the gate open for the prisoner.”
The case was resolved the following month when The Maidstone Telegraph of Saturday, July 12,, reported Stedman was indicted for having placed two horse rollers, or garden rollers, across the road in the parish of Higham, with intent to do grievous bodily harm to James Marsh, Dickens’s groom.
He was also charged in the indictment with a trespass upon the highway, and to this he pleaded guilty.
Steadman, who admitted he “was the worse for drink at the time” was sentenced to two months’ hard labour.
This apparent lack of respect for the eminent Victorian author was echoed in another small but impudent crime also found in the British Newspaper Archive, a robbery at Charles Dickens’s home, reported by The Dover Express of Saturday, January 8, 1859.
The newspaper recorded: "On Friday a person named George Blackman, who was described as a market gardener at Higham, was charged before the magistrates at Rochester with having stolen some hay from the premises of Mr Charles Dickens, Gad's Hill near Rochester."
Mr Rootes said despite these incidents, Dickens was generally well-liked in Higham, and most villagers enjoyed having such a well-known neighbour.
He said: “I’m sure there were some who thought he was a bit above himself, poncing around with his fancy friends while they were labouring in the fields.
“But generally I think people were quite happy to have him in their midst - and there were some who would have liked the kudos of having one of the most famous people of the day living in the village.”
Dickens’s popularity was further boosted by the fact he allowed villagers to use the ground of Gad’s Hill for sports and other local events.
The house is now a private school.
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