The writer Charles Dickens made several visits to Birmingham during his lifetime, to help local causes. Most notable is that Dickens gave his first public reading of one of his works, A Christmas Carol, in 1853. The event proved so popular that further readings would develop into tours and dominate the latter part of his life.
These are the visits we have been able to find Dickens made to the city:
1844. Support for Birmingham Polytechnic Institution.
In 1844, Charles Dickens was invited to speak in aid of the Birmingham Polytechnic Institution. He arrived on the afternoon of 28 February, 1844, after travelling by train from Liverpool. The speech was held at the Town Hall at 8pm, where Dickens was warmly received. Dickens stayed over that night at Dee’s Royal Hotel in Temple Row.
1848. Support for Shakespeare’s house at Stratford.
In June 1848, Dickens brought his company of friends to perform Ben Jonson’s 1598 comical play, Every Man in his Humour. The play had been first performed at Miss Kelly’s Theatre in Soho, London in September, 1845 and was successful enough to be repeated three or four times over subsequent years as benefit performances. A performance at Birmingham was held at the Theatre Royal, on Tuesday, 6 June. A ballot system had to be used for the show, which was sold out, despite admission prices being raised from the normal. The performance was to raise money to help fund a permanent position for a curator at Shakespeare’s House, Stratford.
A second show was added on Tuesday, 27 June, when the company performed The Merry Wives of Windsor. Again, a ballot system was adopted for allocating the best seats which was also held at the Theatre Royal.
1853 (January). Birmingham Society of Artists Reception.
On Thursday, January 13 1853 Dickens attended a literary and artistic banquet put on by the Birmingham Society of Artists. The Society honoured Dickens by presenting him with a diamond ring and a silver salver.
1853 (December). Support for the Birmingham and Midland Institute.
On 10 January, 1853, officials in Birmingham adopted an outline for the formation of new educational institute. On hearing about the plans during his January visit (see above), Dickens wrote and offered his services to help by performing a reading from A Christmas Carol. Dickens honoured his commitment to help when he came to Birmingham in December of that year, just after Christmas. The Victorian novelist read from A Christmas Carol on Tuesday 27 December and again on Friday 30 December, and from The Cricket on The Hearth on Thursday 29 December. About 2,000 people attended each performance which was held at the Town Hall.
Dickens asked for one of the readings to be given to an audience composed of the working classes, so the second reading of A Christmas Carol was set aside for that purpose.
On the Saturday 31 December Dickens was entertained at a breakfast reception put on by the Committee for the Birmingham and Midland Institute to thank him for the readings and support he had given. Catherine Dickens was presented with a silver flower stand and for the young Charles a bronze inkstand.
The institute – a scientific and technical education centre for adults – opened next to the Town Hall, in Paradise Street, several years later. The building was demolished in 1965 and moved to Margaret Street.
In 1858, Charles Dickens put on his first national reading tour, five years after he had first read to a public audience at Birmingham. As part of the tour, Dickens visited Birmingham for three nights of performances in October. All were held in the Music Hall.
The itinerary during this visit was as follows:
- October 18 (Monday). Reading at the Music Hall, Birmingham, 8pm. Reads from The Poor Traveller, The Boots at the Hollytree Inn, and the Mrs Gamp episode from Martin Chuzzlewit.
- October 19 (Tuesday). Reading at the Music Hall, Birmingham, 8pm. Reads the story of Little Paul from Dombey and Son.
- October 20 (Wednesday). Reading at the Music Hall, Birmingham, 8pm. Reads from The Poor Traveller, The Boots at the Hollytree Inn, and the Mrs Gamp episode from Martin Chuzzlewit.
As part of his 1867 national reading tour, Charles Dickens returned to Birmingham, giving just one performance.
February 13 (Wednesday). Reads from A Christmas Carol and The Boy at Mugby. The performance was held at the Town Hall.
1869 (September). Support for the Birmingham and Midland Institute.
On Monday, 27 September 1869 Charles Dickens returned to Birmingham to support the Birmingham and Midland Institute. Dickens gave a speech at the Town Hall.
1870 (January). Support for the Birmingham and Midland Institute.
Further Reading on The Circumlocution Office.
Further Reading (external sites).