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  • Writer's pictureMary Smith

'Our English Watering Place'

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Please abide by current Covid-19 guidelines and check for updates before visiting Broadstairs. Every 3rd week in June since 1937, a festival is held in Broadstairs to celebrate the illustrious life and works of the great Victorian novelist Charles Dickens. Alas, as with all large gatherings in 2020 the Broadstairs Dickens Festival  has had to take a fallow year. The Broadstairs Apartments team is pleased to hear that this well-loved Bradstonian institution hopes to stage a play at the Sarah Thorne theatre in the near future instead. We are impatient for the festival's return in 2021!

Picturesque Dickens Museum. © Acabashi/Wikimedia Commons Famously, as a young man Charles Dickens first came to Broadstairs in 1837, having already found literary success with his serialisation of The Pickwick Papers. Soon after, he acquired a house on Albion Street and worked on Nicholas Nickleby. Over the years he developed a fondness for Broadstairs and returned regularly with his growing family, writing both Barnaby Rudge and David Copperfield

Dickens Festival in its heyday at Bleak House As most Broadstairs residents and visitors often observe, many a building in the town is honoured with a small plaque notifying us that Charles Dickens lived there at some point. Bleak House, sitting proudly above Broadstairs harbour, is Dickens' most famous place of residence and where he wrote 'Our English Watering Place' in 1851 as an affectionate tribute to our little seaside town: "Half awake and half asleep, this idle morning in our sunny window on the edge of a chalk-cliff in the old-fashioned watering-place to which we are a faithful resorter, we feel a lazy inclination to sketch its picture."

Broadstairs is a pretty now as it was in Dickens' time. © E Duffy When the Dickens Festival began in 1937, it was born out of an idea of Broadstairs local Gladys Waterer. She lived in the quaint Dickens House on the promenade and wanted to commemorate the centenary of Dickens' first visit. In an inspired moment, she conceived a residents' production of David Copperfield. To publicise it Mrs Waterer organised to have people about the town in Victorian dress and it was so successful the tradition continues to this day.

Dickensian ladies bathing. © Some fantastic events are put on during the festival by the Dickens Fellowship and enthusiastic volunteers. All manner of theatrical and musical performances, readings and costume talks take place, as well as the very popular Country Fair on Victoria Gardens. Don't forget to visit Bleak House and the wonderful Dickens Museum too. The Dickens Fellowship itself is in fact a global organisation of the prolific writers' aficionados. The Broadstairs branch of dedicated Dickens admirers meets monthly throughout the year and welcomes visitors. You can see a video here of a previous festival in full swing.

Queen Victoria and her ladies-in-waiting visit the Dickens Festival. © Staying in Broadstairs during the Dickens Festival is great fun, if only to bump into an array of delightful Dickensian characters strolling around town. You will be treated to the Victorian bathers in their flannel swimming suits down on Viking Bay. Finely turned out ladies stroll the promenade in bustled frocks, shading themselves with parasols. Often they are accompanied by gentlemen sporting tailored coats, top hats and walking sticks. A costume parade kicks off the proceedings and you will be delighted by this Victorian spectacle. Photo opportunities abound! 

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