The man whose novels have probably been read by a greater number of people than any other English works of fiction, was no stranger to Bath. As a young parliamentary reporter, he visited the city in the spring of 1835, to report a speech by Lord John Russell for the Morning Chronicle; and on that occasion he stayed at the Saracen’s Head in Broad Street. Later, he often visited his close friend, Walter Savage Landor, at 35 St James’s Square. He was there in 1840, and is said to have conceived the character of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop during his stay. Pickwick Papers had already firmly established his fame as a novelist, and in one or two chapters of this celebrated novel the social life of Bath was brilliantly satirised, with Mr Pickwick taking the waters, Sam Weller, his faithful servant, declaring them to have ‘a very strong flavour o’ warm flat irons’, and Mr Dowler and Mr Winkle getting involved in a hilarious chase round the Royal Crescent.
Later in his life Dickens grew to dislike Bath for a reason that now seems remarkably superficial. He was present in the Assembly Rooms when Bulwer-Lytton’s play Not So Bad As We Seem, was performed by the Guild of Literature. Dickens was a member of the Guild, and had given advice on certain aspects of production; and when the play was coldly received by the audience, and awarded poor notices in the local press, he was deeply displeased. He never forgave Bath from that moment.
A bronze tablet commemorating his visit to Landor’s house, adorns the facade of 35 St James’s Square. It was unveiled in 1903, on February 7th the novelist’s birthday, by a representative of the Dickens Fellowship.