Katy of Chichester Copywriter was unable to join in with the celebrations of Charles Dickens’ 200th Birthday on 7th February 2012 as she was recovering from a minor op but she made up for it in true book-lover style by visiting Dickens World in Chatham, Kent last week.
Dickens was born in Portsmouth, near Chichester. His father worked as a clerk which involved the Dickens family living first at Portsmouth’s naval base (now Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard) and then at Chatham’s (now Chatham Maritime). Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, which Katy visited while studying for her English A-Level, can be found in Portsmouth and this is somewhere she hopes to visit again soon.
Dickens World seemed strangely placed on a leisure park/industrial estate amongst restaurants and retail outlets but once inside you are transported back to Victorian England and immersed into history as if one of Dickens’ characters.
It is very much an attraction that uses modern technology to send you back in time and remind you how much of an influence Dickens and his books were on English Literature. Dickens World paints a picture of Victorian social history, making us aware of work houses, debtors prisons and alike.
There is a hologram show of Dickens’ most ghostly characters with a focus on Scrooge’s spiritual encounters as well as an animatronics show introducing Dickens’ other characters, including Samuel and Sam from Pickwick Papers and some talking gravestones (which were a bit odd). Live stage productions take place in the main courtyard at certain points throughout the day. Katy caught some of Oliver Twist, which encouraged children from the audience to dress up and play Fagin’s pickpockets.
A boat ride, revealing Victorian prison conditions and Magwitch’s attempted escape via the Thames at the dead of night, is the main attraction. But, unfortunately, this was not in working order when our West Sussex copywriter visited. Katy did, however, take a walk over the bridges that make up the route of the boat trip and got a sense for the mysterious back alleys of darkest London.
Katy’s favourite part of the day was a 4D cinema experience in Peggotty’s Boathouse (from David Copperfield). This combines 3D animation, sound and a sprinkling of water to reveal some of Dickens’ most influential and inspirational trips to America and Europe, using details from the writer’s own accounts in American Notes, Pictures from Italy and his private letters.
A literary day in Kent was rounded off by a visit to Canterbury, home of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, for a bite to eat in the evening. You’ll see a lovely shot of Canterbury Cathedral, more ornate than Chichester’s Cathedral, lit up below. A future visit to Kent will definitely involve checking out The Canterbury Tales Visitor Attraction