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Charles Dickens once described Broadstairs as “one of the freshest and most free places in the world.” He particularly liked the ‘good sea, fresh breeze, fine sand and pleasant walks, with all kinds of fishing boats, lighthouses, piers and bathing machines’.
Aside from the Victorian bathing machines, lighthouses and the number of fishing boats, these 1841 words hold true today. There is indeed a good, mostly calm sea. The sand is fine. There are great walks along the steep cliffs of the Viking Coastal Trail.
Yet there is one big difference from when the novelist was in the city of Kent between 1837 and 1859, where he wrote parts of David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickleby.
Charles Dickens once described Broadstairs as “one of the freshest and most free places in the world.” The city’s Viking Bay is ‘home to a first-class beach’, as seen above
Though already famous, Dickens could hardly have foreseen the fascination with his connection to the coastal town (population about 25,000).
Opposite Viking Bay, home to a first-class beach, is the Charles Dickens pub.
Then there’s the Dickens Walk to the clifftop promenade; Tea rooms of The Old Curiosity Shop; and Bill Sykes Cottage, not far from former Prime Minister Ted Heath’s old sailing club. Heath is the other local ‘name’ and regulars still speak fondly of him.
One of the places where Dickens lived, on the cliff above the pier, has been renamed Bleak House and there is a bust of him on the facade.
The highlight, however, is the Dickens House Museum, formerly the home of Mary Pearson Strong, who inspired the character Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield.
Inside is a drawing room that looks like it was drawn by the illustrator Phiz for the first edition of the book.
Literary marvel: The Dickens House Museum used to be the home of Mary Pearson Strong, who inspired the character Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield
Mary would chase away “donkey boys” who crossed her lawn – a fact that Dickens uses in the novel with comic effect.
Sometimes he handed the boys a few shillings before visiting them and told them to stop by just to see Mary go after them.
A Dickens writing desk stands in one corner and a fine portrait of him hangs above a side cabinet containing a custom-made lead-lined wine cooler.
“Oh yes, he enjoyed his drink,” said Peter Shaw, the museum’s director.
But it’s not all literary Victoriana in Broadstairs.
One of the places where Dickens lived (above) has been renamed Bleak House and there is a bust of him on the facade
On the left is a sketch of Dickens in his study at Gad’s Hill Place in Kent. Pictured to the right is ice cream from Morelli’s Gelato in Broadstairs
There are waves to ride, with surf schools. Then there are the fantastic Palace Cinema; an old-fashioned amusement arcade; ice cream from Morelli’s Gelato and some great restaurants.
Of these, Wyatt & Jones, which serves small plates of seafood and meat, may be the favorite, but a newcomer is making waves: The Table.
It’s on a side street near the scotch and crooked Harrington hardware store, which inspired the sketch of Two Ronnies’ Four Candles. Ronnie Corbett once lived nearby.
The Table’s head chef, Joe Hill, has worked with the likes of Gordon Ramsay but moved here to set up his own business. His Asian-infused small plates of mussels and noodles, accompanied by pickled goodies, grilled pork, beef tacos and spicy broths are exquisite.
Broadstairs has seen an influx of ‘Down from Londoners’, many trading the Big Smoke for the Kent coast – a century or so after Dickens invaded the delights of Thanet Island. It’s easy to see why.