Of all the Kent seaside resorts in which Dickens spent his summers, Broadstairs was by far his favourite. From 1837 to 1851 he came almost every year, usually staying from June to October.
He wrote from here to a friend: ‘A good sea – fresh breezes – fine sands – and pleasant walks – with all manner of fishing-boats, lighthouses, piers, bathing-machines, are its only attractions, but it’s one of the freshest little places in the world.’
Dickens wrote parts of The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, Dombey and Son, David Copperfield, and Bleak House here. He liked Broadstairs because this ‘little fishing-place; intensely quiet; built on a cliff’ was old-fashioned and overlooked, and he could work uninterrupted.
He was great friends with James Ballard, the proprietor of the Royal Albion Hotel (A on the map above) who he described as ‘one of the best and most respectable tradesmen in England.’ He sold ‘good Hollands’ gin and, Dickens adds immodestly, ‘he has a kind of reverence for me.’
This Broadstairs town trail is one of 17 walks described fully in my new guidebook, Walking Charles Dickens’ Kent, takes in all those locations. You can get a copy here and get full details of all the locations on the map above.
On the cliff-top is Dickens’ favourite holiday home, Bleak House (D), then called Fort House and since greatly extended, and crenelated. John Forster, friend and biographer, wrote of it: ‘The residence he most desired stood prominently at the top of a breezy hill… with a cornfield between it and the sea.’