Celebrate the brith of Charle Dickens on Monday

Charles Dickens' birthplace in Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth.   ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (09325-016)
Charles Dickens' birthplace in Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (09325-016)
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Travel back to the year 1812 with a visit to the Charles Dickens Birthplace museum on Monday and join in the birthday celebrations in honour of the literary legend.

For one day only, the modest terraced house on Old Commercial Road where Dickens was born 199 years ago, will open during its winter break.

What’s more, it’s absolutely free from 10am until 4pm.

It’s the perfect time for families to visit the local attraction and uncover some of Portsmouth’s literary heritage.

Dating back to the 19th Century, the house has been furnished to match the style of 1809, when Charles’ parents John and Elizabeth Dickens first moved to Portsmouth.

To commemorate Charles’ birth, the annual tradition of hanging a wreath on the front door will be carried out at 11am, by the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Councillor Paula Riches, with the help of pupils from Charles Dickens Junior School in Portsmouth.

The city’s literary development officer, Dominic Kippin, and learning and access manager, Gareth Brettell, will be making speeches. And Tony Pointon of the Dickens Fellowship will propose a toast to honour the immortal memory of the man who wrote some of the world’s most famous stories such as Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield.

Visitors will be given the chance to hear readings from a selection of Dickens’ most well known stories every hour on the hour throughout the day by members of the Dickens Fellowship.

Plus, Al Muir – an actor with the Charles Dickens Community Archive project in Portsmouth – will be appearing in costume as the man himself.

The museum contains historic artefacts used by Charles, including an inkwell and a paper knife. But the centrepiece is the couch that he died on in 1870, which was transported from Charles’ home in Kent.

Organising Monday’s events is City Museum collections manager Rosalinda Hardiman. She says: ‘People often think of Dickens as a London writer. Admittedly, he spent most of his career there and in Kent, but he was born here.’

Despite only living in the house for three years, Charles returned to Portsmouth throughout his life to research information for novels and give public readings of them.

It was on his final visit that he came in search of his birthplace but was unsuccessful in finding it.

These days the house is clearly signposted with a plaque on the front marking Charles’ birth date.

Why not combine your visit, with a trip to Guildhall Square to see a film adaptation of one of Dickens masterpieces. At 1pm The Big Screen will be showing the 1968 sing-along classic Oliver! starring Ron Moody, Mark Lester and Oliver Reed.

If all this only whets your appetite for Dickens and leaves you wanting ‘more’, don’t miss the Charles Dickens Birthday Walk on Sunday from the Visitor Information Centre at The Hard.

The guided walk will take visitors around the area where the Dickens family lived and worked and will include excerpts from the novelist’s works from 2.30pm. Tickets include refreshments and cost £3 for adults, £1 for Portsmouth Leisure Card holders and accompanied children are free of charge.

These events mark the start of Dickens bicentenary year and city-wide events are being planned for throughout 2012.