The collection

14th May 1999 at 01:00
Museum and gallery staff put their favourite artefacts on display. Week 18 The Dickens sideboard, Dickens House Museum, Broadstairs.

In 1836, Charles Dickens married Georgina Hogarth. This Regency sideboard is probably one of the first pieces of furniture he bought to furnish his rooms in Furnival's Inn, in Holborn, central London. It was second-hand and he kept it until just before he moved to Gads Hill Place, near Rochester, when he replaced it with a large and imposing one.

Dickens was obviously very attached to this sideboard because he kept it until 1855 (when it was sold to Mr John Thomas Green, a solicitor from Bedfordshire). Why he hung on to it for so long is something of a mystery, because as his fortunes improved, and in spite of his responsibilities for his extended family, he always bought the best and latest in furnishings and household equipment.

But there is a clue which may explain his attachment to it: the brass lion mask handles. Dickens used the symbol of a lion on his bookplates and it was his unofficial "coat of arms". When the sideboard was made, at the end of the 18th century, the lion mask motif was fashionable.

After Mr Green's death in 1904, the sideboard passed to his nephew, who later disposed of it. It reappears some time later in an auction catalogue of Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge, where it is listed as the property of Mrs Gerald Walker, and described as "a mahogany pedestal sideboard ... with brass plate stating it was the property of Charles Dickens and sold by him in 1855, 7ft 4in long, 1ft 9 in deep".

It was bought by the Tattam family, who also bought Dickens House in Broadstairs, and has been there ever since.

Charles Dickens first came to stay in Broadstairs in 1837, when he was 25 and already famous. He returned to the town again and again over the years and there found inspiration for one of his most famous characters, Betsey Trotwood.

A Miss Mary Strong once lived in what became Dickens House. She was, apparently, a kindly and charming old lady who fed the young Dickens tea and cakes. He also remembered that she was firmly convinced of her right to stop the passage of donkeys in front of her cottage.

Dickens used the donkey incident for the character of Betsey Trotwood, and described her cottage, with "its square gravelled garden full of flowers" and the parlour with its "old fashioned furniture', through the eyes of David Copperfield.

After the Tattams bought Dickens House in 1919, their daughter Dora left it to the town, and in 1973 it was opened, according to the terms of her will, as a museum. The mahogany sideboard is on the ground floor, with other Dickensian memorabilia.

Joyce Smith is honorary curator of the Dickens House Museum, Victoria Parade, Broadstairs, Kent CT10 1QS. Tel: 01843 862853

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