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National Railway Museum reveals Charles Dickens may not have got his last Christmas turkey

A newly-unearthed letter has lead to questions about how Charles Dickens spent his last Christmas - and whether he had a turkey on his table.

The Victorian author, who famously lived in Chatham as a child, was ravelled in an incident when a fire on a train destroyed a 30lb turkey bound for his home.

Charles Dickens spent a lot of his life in Kent. Picture: Copyright HAG © 2009
Charles Dickens spent a lot of his life in Kent. Picture: Copyright HAG © 2009

A letter penned by Dickens rediscovered in the archives of the National Railway Museum reveals how Great Western Railway wrote to people who had parcels in a horsebox which caught fire in Christmas week 1869 near Hanwell Railway Station in London.

A Mr Kingett from the train company wrote to the senders, one of whom was Dickens, to explain what had happened and to apologise.

The parcel was sent by George Dolby, the manager of Dickens’s reading tours.

In reply, Dickens wrote a letter two months after the incident, signed from his home at Gads Hill Place in Higham.

The letter reads: "I have no doubt my Christmas fare was destroyed by an unavoidable accident, and that I bore the loss with unbroken good humour."

The letter signed by Dickens unearthed by the National Railway Museum. Credit: railwaymuseum.org.uk
The letter signed by Dickens unearthed by the National Railway Museum. Credit: railwaymuseum.org.uk

It is not known if Dickens ever did source another bird for his festive feast.

Mr Kingett, who was the superintendent of the Great Western Railway's parcels department at Paddington Station, clung on to the letter and it was later published in the Great Western Railway Magazine in 1908.

The letter will now go on display at the railway museum in York.

Lead curator Ed Bartholomew said: “Every now and then, we are fortunate to uncover a hidden gem in our railway archive which stretches back more than 200 years.

"Dickens played a key role in popularising the image of Christmas as we know it today, which included the then luxurious choice of turkey in A Christmas Carol, instead of the more traditional goose.

"The bleak irony is that the man who did so much to shape our Christmas experiences may himself have been left with an empty stomach on his last ever Christmas Day" - Ed Bartholomew

"The bleak irony of this discovery is that the man who did so much to shape our Christmas experiences may himself have been left with an empty stomach on his last ever Christmas Day. Hard times indeed.”

Dickens died on June 9, 1870 at the age of 58 at his home which is now Gad's Hill School.

It was five years to the day after he was involved in a railway crash in Staplehurst, which killed 10 people and injured 40.

He tended to the wounded before rescuers arrived and in the rush, left the unfinished manuscript for Our Mutual Friend in the carriage.

A host of events are being planned to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Dickens's death next year in Rochester and throughout Medway.

Read more: All the latest news from Gravesend

Read more: All the latest news from Medway


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