After his first visit to Liverpool in 1838, Dickens began to form a meaningful relationship with the city, and despite his later requests that there be no statues or monuments in his honour, across Britain in general, Liverpool found its own special ways to remember one of the greatest authors of all time.
So, lets take a look at some of the homages which can be found in Liverpool (both past and present)
The Liverpool Ship ‘Pickwick’
In 1839, just two years after the publication of The Pickwick Papers (1837), a ship, which was ‘a full rigged vessel of 386 tons’ (Southtown, 1911, Pg. 74), was launched in Chester and given the name Pickwick. Built for Liverpool owners, the ship ‘should be the only one of any considerable amount that one can find over a course of years, named after Dickens or his characters. There were numerous Shakespeare’s, Milton’s, Byron’s, and politicians, but not a single Charles Dickens or Dickens, and but this solitary “Pickwick,” and it probably a good example’ (Southtown, 1911, Pg. 74).
The Streets of Toxteth
During his visit to Liverpool for his appearance at the Mechanics’ Institute, Dickens met Mr Richard Vaughn Yates, a wealthy merchant who was involved with the institute, who had gave Dickens a tour of the building prior to his speech there on the 26th February 1844. During the visit, Yates held a costume party at his home in ‘the Dingle’ (Dexter, 1925, Pg. 257), during which, Dickens got to dance with his very own Dolly Varden. Years later, the area which was once home to Yates’s estate, became part of the area which formed Toxteth, and interestingly, it is now home to a cluster of streets and cul-de-sacs, which are named after the author, his novels, and some of his characters. Below is the list of names which can be found in Toxteth.
Although the street names were welcomed, there appeared to be some drama over the name given to one street, and the Liverpool Daily Post, claims that one resident, Mr Lockhart, felt that it was not suitable for a street with a chapel to be called ‘Pickwick Street and requested that Dorrit Street and Pickwick Street, change names, allowing the entrance of the chapel to be on Dorrit Street’ (1870).
“A Case History” by John King
The Hope Street ‘Suitcases’, by John King (1998), can be found directly outside the Liverpool Institute, and feature the names of notable people and organisations, who have been significant to both the arts, and Liverpool. Ranging from the feminist pioneer, Josephine Butler, the Beatles George Harrison, and an educator of the people, Alan Durband, the cases certainly boast an impressive list of names. However, one name in particular stands out, and that name is Charles Dickens, the man who once stood in the building next to the cases, and praised Liverpool for the efforts it had made to improve education for the working-class.
Mechanic’s Institute now Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts
The Liverpool Mechanics’ Institution can be found on Hope Street in Liverpool, and although it is now known as the Liverpool Institute, its connection to Charles Dickens is acknowledged on the blue plaque, and pays tribute to the author’s visit on the 26th February 1844, during which, the author made his first public speech in Liverpool.
Dexter, Walter. The England of Dickens. London: Cecil Palmer, 1925.
‘Mr Pickwick.’ Liverpool Daily Post. 6th May 1870.
Southtown, J.Y. ‘Matters for Dickensian Research.’ The Dickensian. 7:3 (1 March 1911) 75-75.