Cobham Park by E. W. Haslehust (1866-1949).. Watercolour on paper. Source: Haslehust and Nicklin, Dickens-land, facing page 21. Text and formatting by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
It was old associations that led Dickens so often in his walks from Gadshill Place to Chatham [where he lived with his family when his father, John, was working at the Naval Pay Office in the dockyard]. But the neighbourhood which gave him the most pleasure, combining as it did with similar associations an exquisite beauty, was, Forster [Dickens's biographer] tells us the sylvan scenery of Cobham Park. The green woods and green shades of Cobham would recur to his memory even in far-off Lausanne, and the last walk before his fatal seizure — was through these woods, the charm of which cannot be better defined than in his own description in Pickwick.
. . . . The circuit of Cobham Park is about seven miles, and it is crossed by the "Long Avenue," which, sloping down from the tenantless Mausoleum, opens into Cobham village. [Nicklin, 24-25]
Doubtless Haslehust in composing this Constable-like painting had the following passage from The Pickwick Papers in mind:
A delightful walk it was; for it was a pleasant afternoon in June, and their way lay through a deep and shady wood, cooled by the light wind which gently rustled the thick foliage, and enlivened by the songs of the birds that perched upon the boughs. The ivy and the moss crept in thick clusters over the old trees, and the soft green turf overspread the ground like a silken mat. They emerged upon an open park, with an ancient hall, displaying the quaint and picturesque architecture of Elizabeth's time. Long vistas of stately oaks and elm trees appeared on every side; large herds of deer were cropping the fresh grass; and occasionally a startled hare scoured along the ground, with the speed of the shadows thrown by the light clouds which swept across a sunny landscape like a passing breath of summer.
"If this," said Mr. Pickwick, looking about him — "if this were the place to which all who are troubled with our friend's complaint came, I fancy their old attachment to this world would very soon return." ["Chapter 11: Involving Another Journey, And An Antiquarian Discovery; Recording Mr. Pickwick's Determination To Be Present At An Election; And Containing A Manuscript Of The Old Clergyman's," p. 85]
A great walker from youth, Dickens loved to ramble beyond the fields around Gadshill Place, making the Leather Bottle Inn, Cobham, a favourite stop. Through nearby Cobham Wood Dickens made his last such walk on the eve of his death in June 1870. In the vicinity of Cobham Woods is the idyllic village of Shorne, dominated by the tower of a Saxon church. Dickens had pondered being buried in Cobham, Shorne, and Rochester.
Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers. il. Robert Seymour and Hablot Knight Browne. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Lynch, Tony. Dickens England: An A to Z Tour of the Real and Imagined Locations. A Traveller 's Companion. London: Batsford, 2012.
Nicklin, J. A. Dickens-land. Il. E. W. Haslehust. Beautiful England series. Glasgow & London: Blackie & Son, 1911.
Last modified 25 February 2014