Charles Dickens and the Lindfield Connection

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Helena Hall in her 1959 book Lindfield, Past and Present says “Dr Richard Tuppen was a great friend of Charles Dickens, a frequent visitor to “Froyles”, where he sometimes stayed as well as at The Chalet with the brothers Arthur and Albert Smith, of Egyptian Hall fame’.

This implies Dickens’ visits to Tuppen and the Smiths in Lindfield were at more or less the same time; however the visits were many years apart.  This and other aspects of Charles Dickens’ connections with Lindfield merit a closer look.

Helena Hall appears to have based her statements on the recollections of Mrs Elizabeth Anscombe, nee Woodgate, that were published in several newspapers, following interviews when she was in her nineties.

Looking first at Dickens’ visits to Dr Richard Stapley Tuppen at Froyles in the High Street.  Richard Tuppen was baptised in Lindfield in May 1780, the son of Henry and Sarah Tuppen, who had purchased Froyles in that year.  His mother was a member of the well established Stapley family whose seat was Hickstead Place.  In 1806, Froyles was inherited by Richard Tuppen; together with his sister he lived in the property until his death on 21st March 1840, aged 59.

Mrs Elizabeth Anscombe, born 1826, was aged 13 years when she entered service at Froyles as a waiting maid in 1839.  Praised by reporters for her ‘wonderful memory’, Elizabeth Anscombe vividly recalled meeting Charles Dickens when he frequently visited Richard Tuppen.  similarly she recalled that Tuppen and Dickens went to church on Sundays, but Dickens found it difficult to keep awake during the long sermons of those days.  When he was awake Dickens made sketches of the congregation, chiefly caricatures, on the walls or on a pillar.

Dickens must have been in Lindfield during 1839 and possibly early 1840, as Richard Tuppen died in the March of that year.  Among Mrs Anscombe’s most treasured possessions was a signed copy of a Dickens’ book, reported as, ‘A Christmas Carol’, given as ‘a token of regard’.  However, it would appear this book was first published in December 1843, so perhaps the gift was a pre-publication edition or Dickens gave the book on a later visit to Miss Tuppen; Elizabeth Anscombe remained in her employ until June 1848.

More challenging to explain is the friendship between Charles Dickens and Richard Tuppen, they were aged about 28 and 59 respectively in 1839.  How they met and became great friends is a mystery, as throughout most of the 1830s, Dickens had been pursuing a career in journalism predominantly in London.  It was only after 1836, that he had become known through the publication in instalments, of Pickwick Papers.  At this time Richard Tuppen was the village doctor in Lindfield, which had been his home since birth and he had been ‘apprenticed’ to a local surgeon.  Similarly the background and social standing of their respective families makes a family connection implausible. the Dickens family background is well documented and Lindfield does not feature.

In contrast, Charles Dickens’ friendship with Arthur Smith and consequently Lindfield is strongly evidenced.  However, the Smiths could not be the link between Tuppen and Dickens, as Richard Tuppen had died almost a decade prior to Smith’s connection with Lindfield.

Arthur Smith, born 1825, and with his older brother Albert, were famous as the first Englishmen to climb Mon Blanc in 1851.  Albert followed a career as a journalist, humorist, writer and playwright in parallel with Dickens.   They had both worked for Bentley’s Miscellany and Albert Smith had adapted some of Dickens’ writings for the stage.  During the 1850s, Arthur Smith managed the Egyptian Hall in London and with his brother gave performances recounting their exploits on Mont Blanc.  Both of the brothers knew Dickens.

Various studies of Dickens describe Arthur Smith as his friend and manager.  He handled the booking for readings by Dickens, which is reported to have said: ‘I got hold of Arthur Smith as the best man of business I know’.  Without doubt they had a friendly and trusting relationship.

How were the Smiths linked with Lindfield?  Arthur Smith, when in his twenties, married Jane May Crawfurd, the daughter of William Board Edward Gibbs Crawfurd of Paxhill, Lindfield.  On land adjacent to the Ardingly Road, within the Paxhill estate, Arthur with is brother built The Chalet in the first years of the 1850s.  It is said, by Henlena Hall in Lindfield Past and Present, that dickens helped by ‘carrying windows and door frames’.  However, the basis for this statement is unknown, but it is reasonable to assume Dickens visited Arthur Smith and his wife at The Chalet during the 1850s.

Helena Hall also makes the assertion, again drawn from the recollections of Elizabeth Anscombe, that dickens ‘did many kindly things for Lindfield.  He helped to raise funds to build the school on the Common.  He took part in entertainments at the Assembly Rooms [Bent Hotel, Lindfield], and, as the result of public readings of his works at the Corn Exchange, Haywards Heath, he gave £100 to our Vicar, Mr Sewell, to help restore the Church’.  However, on reading the various articles on Elizabeth Anscombe’s memories, some of Helena Hall’s assertions may be questionable.  One of the more detailed articles on Elizabeth Anscombe’s memories, published in the Mid Sussex Times in 1913, said: ‘That as the result of a public reading at the Haywards Heath ~Corn Exchange, Dickens was able to hand £100 to the then Vicar of Lindfield – the Rev. E. Johnson’ and ‘That the money was used by him to help meet the cost of erecting the present Lindfield Reading Room, the builder of which was Mrs Anscombe’s husband’.

As explained in a recent Lindfield Life article, the Reading Room started life as the National School, built on the Common in 1851.  This date aligns with Arthur Smith’s marriage, the building of The Chalet and Rev. Johnson being the vicar.  Therefore the reading was most likely arranged courtesy of Mr and Mrs Smith.  Dickens may have done other entertainments and readings in Lindfield or Haywards Heath but supporting evidence is lacking.

It is pleasing that Lindfield has one enduring legacy of Charles Dickens’ connection with the village.

 

Published in Lindfield Life June 2017

 

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