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The Dickens connection in Malton

By Malcolm Chalk
Chair of The Charles Dickens Malton Society

Malton Market Place
Dickens found inspiration for some of his characters in Malton

Charles Dickens often visited Malton because of his long friendship with Charles Smithson, a solicitor in the town.

The Smithson family had their offices on Chancery Lane in Malton and they also shared a practice in London.

Chancery Lane in Malton
Smithson's office in Malton became the model for Scrooge's Counting House

At the age of 19 Charles Smithson was being trained by his eldest brother John in Malton, but John died and Charles moved to the business in London to continue his training with another older brother, Henry.

Three years later Charles Smithson's father died and his older brother Henry went back to Malton to take over that firm, whilst Charles stayed at the London office.

During this period Charles Dickens acted as surety for a friend of his to buy into the Smithson's London business and that's how he and Charles Smithson met and became lifelong friends.

But then Henry, the brother that had returned to Malton after their father's death died too and Charles Smithson returned to Malton to take over that business.

He lived at Easthorpe Hall until the autumn of 1843, when he moved to the Abbey House in Old Malton, behind St Mary's Priory Church. But because he and Charles Dickens were close friends the writer came up regularly to see him.

Dickens in Malton
Charles Dickens
We understand that Charles Dickens Esquire the admired and talented author of "Pickwick", etc is now on a visit with his lady at Easthorpe, the hospitable abode of Charles Smithson Esquire, Solicitor, Malton.
Yorkshire Gazette, July 8,1843.

Some of the connections, although not written down, are so obvious they must be true. The novel A Christmas Carol wasn't written at Malton, but the Smithson family were told by Dickens that the office in Chancery Lane was the model for Scrooge's Office and the 'Bells' were those of St Leonard's Church on Church Hill.

I think Dickens was inspired to use the Smithson building as the model for Scrooge's counting room, because it's not a big office and would be a typical solicitor's office of the day.

It's also thought Dickens got to know a Malton couple called Mr and Mrs Jump. They lived in a white house below a clump of beech trees on the north side of what is now Middlecave Road. Mrs Jump was apparently the model for Mrs MacStinger in Dombey and Son.

Unfortunately in 1844 Charles Smithson died early like his brothers, he was only 39. He died without leaving a will, but he became one of Dickens' characters too.

The family were told he was Mr Spenlow of Spenlow and Jorkins in David Copperfield, on his death the character Mr Spenlow also failed to leave a will.

Dickens attended the funeral at Old Malton. He left York by fast carriage at 7.00 am on 5th April and arrived in Malton just in time for the funeral at 9.30 am.

It really is time that Malton made more of this great literary connection.


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