In 1839 Charles Dickens decided to move his parents, John and Elizabeth, from London where they were running up debts. On the 5th March he wrote to his mother from his lodgings in the New London Hotel in Exeter telling her of Mile End Cottages in Alphington. He had paid the first quarters rent in advance on the left hand cottage. He described the landlady, Mrs Mary Pannell, as 'the finest old countrywoman conceivable'. She lived next door in the right hand cottage and her brother, Mr Symons and his wife, lived in the next cottage, Mandrake House.
Charles described Mile End cottage thus: '. . . the house is on the high road to Plymouth and though in the very heart of Devonshire there is as much long stage and posting life as you would find in Piccadilly. The situation is charming, meadows in front, an orchard running parallel to the garden hedge, richly wooded hills closing in the prospect behind, and away to the left, before a splendid view of the hill on which Exeter is situated, the Cathedral towers rising up to the sky in the most picturesque manner possible.' 'I almost forget the number of rooms; but there is an excellent parlour with two other rooms on the ground floor. There is a really beautiful little room over the parlour which I am furnishing as a drawing room and there is a splendid garden. The paint and wallpaper throughout is new and fresh and cheerful-looking. The place is clean beyond all description and the neighbourhood, I suppose, the most beautiful in the most beautiful of English counties.' Charles paid a rent of £20 a year' and the furniture cost £70. He employed two maidservants Hester and Eliza Drinkwater.
Charles' parents moved into the cottage with their younger son, Augustus, and Dash their dog. Mr and Mrs Dickens both enjoyed society and were welcomed into the village. Charles paid many visits to his parents and one of his closest friends was Charles Babbage. Other friends included Samuel Dyer Knott, John Hele the village postman and constable and John Coles carpenter and sexton.
Charles wrote the opening chapters of Nicholas Nickelby in the cottage and used the description of the cottage in the book. It is thought that Mr Micawber from David Copperfield was based upon his father.
On Friday evening 31st July 1840 Charles wrote from Mild End Cottage: 'I don't believe there is anywhere such a perfect little doll's house as this. The gardens flourishing, the road lively, the rooms free from creepy things. The prospect beautiful.'
A village story goes that Charles once took a chair down into a tunnel by Alphington church and tried to summon ghosts.
The Dickens family left Alphington in either late 1842 or early 1843.
Mrs Panell had a lined pew in the best part of Alphington church. She died in October 1845.
Copyright © Rowena Kirkpatrick