Charles Dickens’s Portsmouth

Charles Dickens is so associated with London that it seems strange to think of him as a son of Wessex. But he was born in Portsmouth, the son of a Royal Navy clerk, with his family moving to London when he was 2 years old.

Dickens's birthplace is now a museum, located at 393 Old Commercial Road (formerly 13 Mile End Terrace), Portsmouth PO1 4QL. The house is preserved as it was in Dickens's time, with authentic period furniture and decor. Events are currently suspended due to covid. but normally, they feature regular readings of Dickens's work and celebrations on his birthday. 7th February.

Dickens's family moved twice within Portsmouth, first to 18 Hawke Street, and then to 39 Wish Road. Neither building now survives. Hawke Street in Portsea was bombed out during the war, and no longer appears to have a number 18. Wish Road, Southsea is now called Kings Road. Again, there no longer seems to be a number 39. It's as if Dickens's childhood homes are considered irreplaceable.

Dickens returned to Portsmouth on several occasions as an adult. The theatre manager Vincent Crummles visits the Theatre Royal (demolished in 1854) in Nicholas Nickleby, He also wrote about Portsmouth in an essay for his magazine All The Year Round, and the Royal Navy features prominently in Dombey and Son.

Pleasingly, Charles Dickens is now the name of an electoral ward in Portsmouth, which includes his birthplace at Mile End. It was proposed in the City of Portsmouth (Electoral Arrangements) Order 1979, and first contested in the 1983 local election.

Essential Wessex: Roman Roads

Their proud works of war now lie waste and deserted; This fortress has fallen. Its defenders lie low, Its repairmen perished. Thus the palace stands dreary, And its purple expanse; despoiled of its tiles
The Ruin, translated by Cosette Faust Newton and Stith Thompson

Fourth century Wessex was one of the most prosperous parts of the Roman empire, noted for its agricultural wealth. The area between the capital of the Atrebates at Silchester and the legionary fortresses at Exeter and Gloucester became known as the "villa belt", due to the abundance of settlers building detached luxury homes at the expense of long-established settlements. Plus ça change.

These fortresses and civitas capitals needed straight, paved roads to connect them, to allow the legions to march by the most direct route possible. Silchester formed the start/destination point for three major roads: Ermin Way (not to be confused with the similarly-named Ermine Street), to Carmarthen via Cirencester and Gloucester; the Portway, to Exeter; and the appropriately-named Devil's Highway, to That Londinium. Meanwhile, the Fosse Way linked Exeter to Lincoln, again via Cirencester.

Sometimes, the Romans upgraded existing roads rather than building new ones. For example, Icknield Way (again, not to be confused with Icknield Street) was built over a prehistoric trackway that crossed the Thames at Dorchester, thus making it a strategically important settlement and the later capital of the Gewissae.

While most "now lie waste and deserted", a few Roman roads survive in Wessex today. The Fosse Way forms part of the A37 in Somerset, while it is still possible to drive from Newbury to Gloucester along the route of the Ermin Way.

Advertising: An Update

Further to our previous announcement about advertising, after some discussion among the officers of the Society, we have had a partial change of heart. Contrary to what we said before, viewing this blog with ads will continue to be free. However, we will ask you to register. This is purely to provide information on who is viewing our blog, and to enable us to email members with information on meetings and events. We will not sell your data to any third party, ever.

Those who want to view this blog without ads will be invited to pay a small monthly fee. This will help us cover our running costs, and we hope that many of you will opt to support us in this way.

Barnes Day 2020

At our last meeting, we agreed to hold meetings/events on the closest Saturday to Barnes Day (22nd February), St Ealdhelm's Day (25th May), and King Alfred Day (26th October). Barnes Day falls on a Saturday this year, and we will be meeting in Nailsea, where Barnes married Julia Miles in 1827.

Assembling at Holy Trinity Church, where the wedding took place, at 10.30 am, we will walk the heritage trail assembled by the Nailsea and District Local History Society. Printable PDF copies of the trail can be found here. The walk should take about 1½ hours, after which we will repair to the Royal Oak, the pub where Adge Cutler & The Wurzels played their first ever gig in 1966,

We hope to see you there. Directions to the church can be found on the Contact Us page.

Rhythm Section Want Ad

On behalf of the Ringwood and Burley Band, I write to enquire whether there are any readers interested in joining the Brass Band, in particular cornet and B♭ Bass players. Other musicians also welcome to apply.

The Band also seek sponsors to help cover their overheads. These could be from individuals or companies. All small or larger donations,  would be much appreciated.  For example, I have agreed to sponsor the Band's newsletter. in return, my logo will be published. Individual sponsors, who would like their name shown, can request that when forwarding their support. Firms could send in their logo (not advertisements) and that may be used within promotional publicity such as event programmes, or the web-site.

Potential new players, please telephone Tony Mist on 01425 473542. Sponsorship/donations can be forwarded to the Treasurer, 8. Wanstead Close, Ringwood BH24 1SJ. Email queries to:-

Further information can be found on their website.