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Charles Dickens Museum in London acquires £1.8 million private collection

Unknown secrets about one of the country's best-loved novelists, Charles Dickens, have been revealed after hundreds of personal letters were acquired from the US.

The museum celebrating the life of Dickens, who grew up in Chatham, announced they had gained the collection of over 300 items today, on what would have been his 208th birthday.

Sketch of Dickens in chalk an pastels. Picture: The Charles Dickens Museum.
Sketch of Dickens in chalk an pastels. Picture: The Charles Dickens Museum.

The private collection includes 144 handwritten letters, unpublished manuscripts, jewellery and original artwork of Dickens's books.

They were bought by The Charles Dickens Museum,located at his former home in Holborn, central London for £1.8 million.

One letter reveals how Dickens extensively planned a dinner party, whose guest list included Punch Magazine founder Mark Lemon.

The letter includes a section headed "wine", which reads: "At supper...a good supply of champagne all over the table. No champagne before supper and as little wine, as possible, of any sort, before supper.

"Gin punch to be kept in ice under the table all the evening [to be given] only to myself or Mr Lemon."

Charles Dickens' signature: Picture: The Charles Dickens Museum.
Charles Dickens' signature: Picture: The Charles Dickens Museum.

Another letter regards Dickens's vision for the character Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop, a character thought to have been based on his 17-year-old sister-in-law Mary Hogarth, who died at his London home.

In a letter to the book's illustrator George Cattermole, he wrote: "I am breaking my heart over this story, and cannot bear to finish it."

There are also letters from Dickens's father John, who worked at the naval dockyard in Chatham.

Prior to his death 150 years ago this year, Dickens lived in Gad's Hill Place in Higham.

Among the items in the collection is a copy of the family's home magazine, the Gad's Hill Gazette, and account books from the home which is now a private school.

The collection will be researched, catalogued and preserved before going on display over the next two years both online and at the museum.

Cindy Sughrue, the museum's director, said: “This is a treasure trove – a true once-in-a-lifetime moment for the museum.

"150 years after the death of Dickens, it is wonderful to be able to bring such a rich and important collection to the museum at his first family home.

"We are immensely grateful to all of the organisations that have supported us so generously, and to the collector for his original acuity and giving the museum the opportunity of acquiring this collection.

"We are looking forward to sharing the items with our visitors, both online and in person in the rooms of Dickens’s home.”

A host of events are being planned to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Dickens's death later this year in Rochester – where the annual Dickens Festival takes place – and throughout Medway.

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