Walk 5: Dickens’ haunted Chatham childhood

St Mary’s, Chatham, scene of one of Charles Dickens’ saddest memories

The death in childhood of his little sister Harriett was one of Charles Dickens’ saddest memories.

When he thought about it, he recalled the eerie view at night from his attic bedroom at 18 St Mary’s Place, Chatham, of the graveyard at St Mary’s church.

His painfully sad story A Child’s Dream of a Star was inspired by that memory, and that view.

In the tale, two children watch each night for ‘one clear shining star that used to come out in the sky before the rest, near the church-spire, above the graves’.

But the little girl becomes ill, and dies: ‘And so the time came, all too soon! when the child [Charles himself] looked out alone… and when there was a little grave among the graves, not there before; and when the star made long rays down towards him, as he saw it through his tears.’

The map below, which is by Emily Duong, features 18 St Mary’s Place (H) and St Mary’s Chatham (I). This nostalgic Chatham town trail is one of 17 routes in my new guidebook Walking Charles Dickens’ Kent, available here

Another memory of that house (demolished when the Pentagon shopping centre was built) was of the tiles in the fireplace which carried scenes from the Scriptures, and which Dickens gave to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

Three of Charles’ siblings were christened at St Mary’s church, and in 1821 his aunt Mary was married here. Her groom was Dr Mathew Lambert, who inspired the irate Dr Slammer in Pickwick.

Map credit: Emily Duong