Chalk Church, Kent
Ernest William Haslehust (1866-1949), RI, RWA
Water colour painting
16.3 x 11 cm framed
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Out of the Cobham woods it is not a long walk to the little village of Shorne, where Dickens was fond of sitting on a hot summer afternoon in its pretty, shaded churchyard. This is believed to be the spot which he has described in Pickwick as "one of the most peaceful and secluded churchyards in Kent, where wild flowers mingle with the grass, and the soft landscape around forms the fairest spot in the garden of England". A picturesque lane leads into the road from Rochester to Gravesend, on the outskirts of the village of Chalk. Here, in a corner house on the south side of the road, Dickens spent his honeymoon, and many of the earlier chapters of Pickwick were written. In February of the following year — 1837 — Dickens and his wife returned to the same lodgings, shortly after the birth of his eldest son. Chalk church is about a mile from the village. There was formerly above the porch the figure of an old priest in a stooping attitude, holding an upturned jug. Dickens took a strange interest in this quaint carving, and it is said that, whenever he passed it, he took off his hat or gave it a nod, as to an old acquaintance. [Nicklin, 26-27]
The newlyweds, Charles and Catherine Dickens, had rented the honeymoon cottage in the little village of Chalk, Kent, for the week immediately following their marriage in April 1836. The Kentish village on the Medway marshes in which Pip grows up with his harsh sister and indulgent brother-in-law is an "amalgam of Chalk and Cooling" (Lynch, 53-54), the latter being the location of the churchyard described in the opening of Great Expectations (1860-61). The red-tiled forge and nearby house which served as Dickens's models for the Gargerys' still stand. The distance between Chalk and Rochester, where Uncle Pumblechook lives in the book, is only four miles, so that Pip and Joe could walk it easily when Pip is bound over as his apprentice at the Guild Hall. Coaches from metropolis bound Gravesend followed the old Roman military road, Watling Street, which runs right through Chalk, so that, once translated to the gentlemanly sphere, Pip could still get down to "our village" quickly. The village of Chalk would seem to be the model for F. A. Fraser's Household Edition illustration It was fine summer weather again (1876).
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Il. F. A. Fraser. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. Volume 6, Page 129.
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 4 March 2014