A plaque commemorating the association of Charles Dickens with 143 Fore Street, Exeter, was unveiled on 16 August 2013, by journalist and crime writer Simon Hall on behalf of Exeter Civic Society.
The plaque is on the frontage of 143 Fore Street, Exeter, EX4 3AN.
The inscription reads:
Exeter Civic Society. Charles Dickens, 1812-1870, Novelist, stayed here, the home and printworks of Thomas Latimer, 1803-1888, campaigning journalist.
It is not possible in just a few words to address the life of CHARLES DICKENS—author of 13 novels, not to mention a great quantity of essays, journalism and short stories; father of ten surviving children; a man by turns generous to friends and unforgiving to those who crossed him; a force of nature whose imagination and genius made him the benchmark of 19th century English literature; a man who died of exhaustion and a weak heart at only 58.
The focus here is on Dickens’s links with Exeter.
It is well-known that he lodged his parents in Alphington for three and a half years, but one of the main reasons for his association with this city was his friendship with the radical, campaigning journalist Thomas Latimer, long-time editor of the Western Times, whose home and office were at 143 Fore St.
Apart from this, he is known to have visited Exeter twice to give his famous readings, on both occasions in the Royal Public Rooms (roughly where Boots now stands in High Street). The first time was on 4 August 1858 when he selected passages from A Christmas Carol. He was very enthusiastic about his reception here and wrote to his friend and later biographer John Forster, “I think they were the finest audiences I ever read to. I don’t think I ever read in some respect as well; and I never beheld anything like the personal affection which they poured out upon me at the end. I shall always look back upon it with pleasure.” Trewman’s Flying Post reported that “Mr Dickens possesses great dramatic ability, wonderful powers of expression, and a rich sonorous voice, of which he is a perfect master—changing it from the rough tones of Scrooge to the sweet and delicate key of Tiny Tim with an easy and remarkable facility.”
For his later readings on 10 and 11 January 1862, he chose passages from Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby and David
Copperfield. This time the Trewman’s Flying Post journalist adopted a rather more cynical tone by remarking: “Altogether the readings were successful—successful as an amusing entertainment for the public and as an advertisement of Pickwick, Nicholas Nickleby and David Copperfield.” The ticket prices ranged from 1 /- for unreserved seats to 4 /- for reserved seats. Incidentally, a famous chapter in Pickwick Papers is the depiction of the Eatanswill Election. This was at least in part inspired by the riotous scenes and drunkenness that Dickens witnessed around the hustings in Exeter Castle for the South Devon by-election in 1835 that he covered in the company of Thomas Latimer.
A final, indirect connection with Exeter was that Dickens’s wife Catherine was the daughter of George Hogarth, editor in the early 1830s of the Western Luminary and during that time resident in the city. However he met her a few years later in London where Hogarth had become editor of the Morning Chronicle. JW