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Dickens in Chester

As well as being one of the greatest authors of all time, Charles Dickens was a great orator, giving readings on both sides of the Atlantic. He often acted out the parts that he was reading. His first visit to the city of Chester was on Friday, August 13, 1858, the year in which he began professional readings of him. The reading was from A Christmas Carol. On December 19, 1861, he was engaged to once again delight the Chester public. This visit was canceled until after Christmas due to the death of the Prince Consort.

The reading took place on Thursday 30 January 1862. Dickens delighted Chester audiences with readings of The Trial by Pickwick and Nicholas Nickleby at Mr Squeer’s School. Prices for this event were four shillings (20p) for numbered and reserved seats. Unreserved seats in the lower galleries cost two shillings (10 pence) and rear seats one shilling (5 pence). These were pretty high prices at the time. The reading began at 8 p.m. and lasted two hours.

On January 22, 1887, Dickens made his last appearance at the Music Hall, but not by election. The highly respected author of such classics as Oliver Twist and David Copperfield gave readings to an enthusiastic Chester audience on Dr. Marigold and Bardell Vs Pickwick. The Chester Chronicle newspaper dated January 26, 1887 says: The Music Hall on Tuesday night was generally well packed, though some seats set aside as “reserved” were empty; and this is all the more gratifying, as the high prices charged and the exceptional severity of the weather must have been very deterrent to all but the most eager to see and hear it.

Shortly after eight, Mr. Dickens appeared on the platform. He took a seat at the small crimson table provided and began without a word of preface: “I’m a cheap Jack,” Dr. Marigold’s opening words. Dickens concluded with old Weller’s assertions about the value of an alibi, to loud applause.

Some sources say that he gave a reading at the Music Hall shortly before his death in 1870. This is incorrect. He was scheduled to give a reading on Thursday, April 29, 1869, but had to be canceled for health reasons. Dickens had suffered a slight stroke. Mr. F. Carr Beard, physician and friend of Dickens, made a statement to the Chester Chronicle dated April 24, 1869. He said that he was satisfied that Dickens would not finish reading him, if he appeared. The Chester Chronicle of April 17, 1869 advertised the visit as a farewell reading (the last Mr. Dickens will give at Chester). He would have read The Boots at the Holly Tree In, Sikes and Nancy and Pickwick’s Mister Bob Sawyer’s Party. Unfortunately his fourth visit was not going to be.

Charles Dickens died on June 9, 1870 at the age of fifty-eight.

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