Charles Dickens once described Broadstairs as “one of the freshest and freest little places in the world”. He was particularly impressed by “good sea, fresh breeze, fine sand and pleasant walks with all kinds of fishing boats, lighthouses, piers and bathing machines”.
Victorian bathing machines, lighthouses and crowds of fishing boats aside, those 1841 words still apply today. There is indeed a good, usually calm, sea. The sand is fine. Walk along the steep cliffs of the Viking Coastal Trail.
There is a big difference, however, to the period when the novelist lived in the town of Kent, between 1837 and 1859, where he had written parts of David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickleby.
Charles Dickens once described Broadstairs as “one of the freshest and freest little places in the world”. The city’s Viking Bay is “home to a world-class beach,” as seen above
Though Dickens was already famous, he could hardly have foreseen the allure of his association with the seaside town (population of about 25,000).
Across from Viking Bay, home to a world-class beach, is the Charles Dickens pub.
Then there’s the Dickens Walk to the Cliff Promenade; The Tea Rooms of the Old Curiosity Shop; and Bill Sykes Cottage, which is not far from former Prime Minister Ted Heath’s old sailing club. Heath is the other local ‘name’ and regulars still speak fondly of him.
One of the places where Dickens lived, on the cliff above the pier, has been renamed Bleak House, and there is a bust of him on the facade.
The highlight, however, is the Dickens House Museum, the former home of Mary Pearson Strong, who inspired the character Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield.
Inside is a living room that looks like it was drawn by illustrator Phiz for the first edition of the book.
Literary marvel: The Dickens House Museum was the formerly home of Mary Pearson Strong, who inspired the character Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield
Mary scared off “donkey boys” who crossed her lawn – a fact which Dickens uses to comic effect in the novel.
Sometimes he would give the boys a shilling or two before he went to see them and would beckon them to drop by just to watch Mary go after them.
There is a desk by Dickens in one corner, and a fine portrait of him hangs above a side cabinet with a custom lead-lined wine cooler he custom-made.
“Oh yes, he liked his drink,” says Peter Shaw, the museum’s manager.
But it’s not all literary Victoriana at Broadstairs.
One of the places where Dickens lived (above) has been renamed Bleak House, and there is a bust of him on the facade
At left is a sketch by Dickens in his study at Gad’s Hill Place in Kent. Pictured right is ice cream from Morelli’s Gelato in Broadstairs
There are waves to ride, with surf schools. Then there’s the fabulous Palace Cinema; an old-fashioned arcade; Morelli’s Gelato and a number of great restaurants.
Of these, Wyatt & Jones, which serves seafood and meat dishes, might be the top pick, but one newcomer is making waves: The Table.
It’s on a side street near the motley hardware store in Harrington that inspired the sketch for Two Ronnies’ Four Candles. Ronnie Corbett once lived nearby.
The Table’s chef, Joe Hill, has worked with the likes of Gordon Ramsay but moved here to start his own business. His Asian-inspired small plates of clams and noodles accompanied by pickles, grilled pork, beef tacos and spicy broths are outstanding.
Broadstairs has seen an influx of ‘down from Londoners’, many trading the Big Smoke for the Kent coast – some a century after Dickens had adapted to the delights of the Isle of Thanet. It’s easy to see why.