The Victorian author Charles Dickens visited Newcastle, the most populous city in the north-east of England, on at least three occasions, in 1858, 1861 and 1867. All were for reading tours. We have compiled the schedule for each of these visits based on historic newspaper adverts, reports and reviews of the reading performances.
In September, 1858, Charles Dickens gave three readings over two days at the city’s then new Town Hall in St. Nicholas Square.
Dickens itinerary was as follows:
- Friday, 24 September. 8pm. Gives a reading of A Christmas Carol.
- Saturday, 25 September. In the afternoon (3pm), Dickens gave a reading of the story of Little Paul from Dombey and Son. In the evening (at 8pm), he gives another public performance, with readings from The Poor Traveller, The Boots at the Hollytree Inn, and the Mrs Gamp episode from Martin Chuzzlewit.
In late November, 1861, Charles Dickens returned to Newcastle and gave three nights of readings at the city’s Music Hall in Nelson Street. In a report of the visit, local newspaper Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury commented on Charles Dickens qualities as a speaker, writing “Mr. Dickens possesses dramatic ability of high order; throughout he completely identifies himself with the characters he assumes, and equally master of humour and pathos”.
Dickens itinerary during the 1861 visit to Newcastle was as follows:
- Thursday, 21 November. On the first night, Charles Dickens gave a reading of six chapters from his novel David Copperfield. Unusually for a Dickens reading, the venue was said to be only be two-thirds full.
- Friday, 22 November. Dickens gave readings from Nicholas Nickleby and the trial scene from The Pickwick Papers. The Music Hall was said to be ‘crowded in every part’.
- Saturday, 23 November. Dickens gave a reading of the story of Little Paul from Dombey and Son and the trial scene from The Pickwick Papers.
In March, 1867, Charles Dickens returned to Newcastle to give two evening reading performances again at the city’s Music Hall in Nelson Street. On both nights the performances were sold out.
Dickens itinerary during the 1867 visit to Newcastle was as follows:
- Monday, 4 March. Dickens read one of his lesser known works, Doctor Marigold and also the trial scene from The Pickwick Papers. The following day, local newspaper Newcastle Journal reviewed the performance, commenting “Mr Dickens read last night in Newcastle, and giving one of the earliest and one the latest creations his genius, for about two hours sustained unabated the interest of an audience who filled overflowing the Music Hall, the passages even being occupied. His elocution and the action which formed part of that elocution, and should not, therefore, be spoken of separately, was full of pathos”.
- Tuesday, 5 March. Dickens read from A Christmas Carol and also ‘Bob Sawyer’s Party’ from The Pickwick Papers. Local newspaper Newcastle Chronicle commented that “The readings were in every way a decided success … the entertainment was highly successful, and Mr. Dickens was loudly applauded at the conclusion”.
The Town Hall, where Dickens spoke in 1858, was then the newly opened meeting place of Newcastle Town Council, located in St. Nicholas Square (between the Bigg Market and the Cloth Market). The building, was designed by John Johnstone in an Italian Neoclassical style. By the middle of the 20th century the Town Hall had deteriorated to such an extent that the Council was forced to relocate, the building being demolished in 1973. The site is now occupied by a modern office building known as No. 1 Cathedral Square.
The Music Hall in Nelson Street, where Dickens spoke in 1861 and in 1867, was first opened in 1838, with the hall situated upstairs on the first floor. It was renamed the New Tyne Concert Hall in 1879, and again five years later as the Gaiety Music Hall. From 1911 – 1949 the hall was used as a cinema. The building was demolished in the 1950’s although the facade was retained.