The Chalet

The Chalet in the Shrubbery

Rochester, Kent

Unknown photographer

Dickens died here on 9 June 1870

Other views of Gadshill

Source: Memories of my Father, facing 16

Dedicated to Daphne Nisbett.

Philip V. Allingham explains how he acquired the volume from which he scanned this image: "Sir Henry F. Dickens's Memories of My Father . . . [was] given to me by my cousin, Daphne Nisbett of 1 Rock Road, Borough Green, Kent, prior to her death in 1998. She acquired both while she was working in London at the BBC (she retired from the music criticism department in 1949!). Her father, who built Brough Green House at the turn of the century, had in his youth been a copy-boy in a London publishing house, and in that capacity had to clean out the wastebaskets (which explains how an envelope addressed by Dickens came into his possession)."

Commentary by Philip V. Allingham

Dickens suffered what proved to be a fatal attack after leaving here for the main house on the afternoon of 9 June 1870. The Swiss Chalet was presented to him by his friend the French actor Charles Fechter at Christmas, 1864, in fifty-eight boxes, and was eventually constructed with the aid of the Lyceum Theatre's French carpenter, M. Godin. Dickens so arranged the building that the second floor afforded him a view of the Thames, whose shipping he sometimes inspected with the aid of a telescope that he had placed in his study.

Belonging to the house, but unfortunately placed on the other side of the high road, was a shrubbery, well wooded though in desolate condition, in which stood two magnificent cedars; and having obtained, in 1859, the consent of the local authorities for the necessary underground work, Dickens constructed a passage beneath the road from his front lawn; and in the shrubbery thus rendered accessible, and which he then laid out very rettily, he placed afterwards a Swiss châlet presented to him by Mr. Fechter, which arrived from Paris in ninety-four pieces fitting like the joints of a puzzle, but which proved to be somewhat costly in setting on its legs by means of a foundation brickwork. "It will really be a very pretty thing," he wrote (January 1865), "and in the summer (supposing it not to be blown away in the spring), the upper room will make a charming study. It is much higher than we supposed." Once up, it did really become a great resource in the summer months, and much of Dickens's work was done there. [Forster, II, 151-52]

Dickens's last few days at Gads Hill were entirely given over to the writing of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, during which time he began to look unusually fatigued. On the 8th he spent the entire day in the Chalet, except to have lunch in the main building. At ten minutes past six in the late afternoon, expiring on the sofa, he cried, "On the ground." These were the last words he uttered.

References

Dickens, Sir Henry F. Memories of my Father. London: Victor Gollancz, 1928.

Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens The "Charles Dickens Edition." 2 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, [n. d.]


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Gallery

Last Modified 30 April 2004