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Charles Dickens in Bonchurch and the Story of Miss Havisham's connection to Bonchurch

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

With Very Many Thanks to Alan Cartwright of Haviland Cottage in Bonchurch for allowing us to use his extensive research for inclusion in this blog.

Alan has created two walks on Google Maps that guide visitors to the important locations mapping Charles Dickens first visit to Ventnor and at a later date and more significantly, Bonchurch.

In 1849, the author Charles Dickens moved to Bonchurch, Isle of Wight for a long summer. During this time, he enjoyed walking around Bonchurch village, Ventnor and the surrounding areas. He also got to know many people in the local community which influenced his writing. In fact, a few of these local characters found their way into some of his most celebrated literary works which have become some of the world’s favourite books David Copperfield (published 1850) and Great Expectations (published 1860).

Alan has researched the local history and verified details with plenty of help from Ventnor Heritage Centre, Bonchurch Community Association, Members of the Charles Dickens Fellowship, and lots more. From the research he can reveal details of local characters and who they are in Dickens' works. We have also curated a walk of key locations, so you can retrace the steps of Charles Dickens as you walk through Bonchurch and Ventnor. Starting at Haviland Cottage, follow the Dickens literary walks. Visit local places of interest and trace the history of characters that appear in his books. Below are some of the key characters and locations:

Mr Dick, David Copperfield (Charles Dickens 1850)

Dickens’s character Miss Betsy Trotwood thought Mr Dick (her relative and tenant) was the wisest man she knew, although his family thought him odd and wanted to 'put him away.' The only odd thing was his obsession with his work on his personal memorial from which he was constantly distracted by thoughts of King Charles’ head. He ended up making huge kites out of the spoiled paper used for the memorials, which he sometimes flew with David. Despite Mr Dick’s somewhat childlike nature he had a lot of common sense and was a staunch supporter of David Copperfield.

Dev Patel, Rosalind Eleazar and Hugh Laurie in the movie “The Personal History of David Copperfield.” 2017 (Dean Rogers). Hugh Laurie plays the part of Mr Dick

Miss Havisham, Great Expectations (Charles Dickens 1860)

Miss Havisham is a fictional character in the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. She is portrayed as a rich, middle-aged woman who has suffered with mental wellness problems due to being jilted at the altar when she was young. In the book she lives in her once luxurious home which is now in ruins and wears her wedding dress for the rest of her life. Miss Havisham was part villain to Pip and part fairy Godmother to her adopted daughter Estella.

Gillian Anderson as “Miss Havisham” in Great Expectations -2011 (Directed by Brian Kirk)

Who were Mr Dick and Miss Havisham?

Alan has been researching (with the help of many collaborators) and the help of the Dickens society, the connections of past Bonchurch residents that inspired two of Charles Dickens Characters, and conclude that both “Mr Dick” from David Copperfield and “Miss Havisham” from Great Expectations are based on Bonchurch folk! Dickens’s letters Dickens left a lifetime of letters that he wrote (more than 14,000 and counting), which have helped researchers to pinpoint the exact location and date of his movements, from these letters we have been able to build connections with the Island and Bonchurch in particular. On 3rd September 1860, shortly before writing Great Expectations he made a bonfire at Gad's Hill near Rochester, Kent (the house that he lived in for the last thirteen years of his life) of all the letters he had received from people. It's a shame he didn't keep them as they would have contained a lot of useful information. More important are the letters he wrote to other people, most people who received letters from him kept them. 1838 Charles Dickens’s first visit to the Isle of Wight Charles Dickens first visited the island with his wife Kate in September 1838 [1] staying at the Groves Needles Hotel Alum Bay, between 3rd & 8th September – writing a humorous letter to the proprietor Mr Groves [2].

The Groves Needles Hotel Alum Bay, where Charles Dickens stayed between 3rd & 8th September 1838 , writing a humorous prose to the proprietor Mr Groves: " Oh Mr. Groves, If so be you approves Of writings in rhyme Knocked off in a quick time........... "

Dickens and his wife then moved on to Ventnor and staying at The Ventnor Hotel (the predecessor name for the Royal Hotel ) from 8th -10th September. The Ventnor Hotel was built in 1831 and run by John Fisher. In 1844 the hotel was kept by a Mr Keatly and her Majesty Queen Victoria took refreshment here before visiting Steephill Castle [3].

The Ventnor Family Hotel & Boarding House, Isle of Wight There was also a Groves Hotel in Ventnor, but it is not clear there is a link between the two hotels.

‘Groves Hotel’ in the engraving here by T. Higham from 1824. From Ventnor & District Local History Society

1849 Charles Dickens’s Summer of Research at Bonchurch, Isle of Wight

John Leech, The Man Who Illustrated Christmas

John Leech came to fame in 1840, when Dickens commissioned him to illustrate “A Christmas Carol”. With Dickens story and Leech's illustration it changed the way the public viewed Christmas.

Indeed the 2017 Film “The man who invented Christmas” starring Simon Callow as John Leech was based on this story.

John Leech stayed nearby Dickens and his family in Bonchurch during 1849. He became very ill after a swimming accident and Charles Dickens stayed longer than intended to care for his friend [4].

Charles Dickens’s second visit to the Isle of Wight was a deep immersion to village life when in 1849 when spent a long summer in Bonchurch village [5].

The Rev. James White

Resident of Bonchurch, the Author, Property Developer & close friend of Dickens the Rev. James White, rented his substantial property “Winterbourne Villa” to the Dickens family for their entire stay in 1849.

Samuel Dick the real-life Mr. Dick Mr. Dick first appears in David Copperfield in Chapter 13, the first chapter Dickens wrote when he moved into Winterbourne. We know from local sources [6] that Dickens dined with Samuel Dick and Family at “Uppermount” and fitting that Dickens used Captain Samuel Dick’s name for Mr. Dick, fondly written as a lovely character as Betsy Trotwood's relative and lodger in “Blunderstone Cottage." Before he moved to Winterbourne, Dickens had spent a week in Broadstairs (see also Fort House now Bleak House), finishing up to Chapter 12 of David Copperfield. Mr.Dick appeared in the next chapter. The timings work wonderfully. Whilst at Winterbourne, Dickens regularly walked up Saint Boniface Down (the highest point on the Isle of Wight). He entertained many of his wide circle of literary friends including William Makepeace Thackeray, Thomas Carlyle and Alfred Tennyson. The Dickens family tea at the Swinburne’s Opposite the entrance to “Winterbourne “is “East Dene” where the 12-year-old Algernon Swinburne lived with his parents. The Dickens family regularly had “High Tea” with the Swinburne’s [7].

The young Queen Victoria had also bought Osborne House (in East Cowes) a few years earlier and moved in during 1848 because of Revolutionary scares that had recently deposed King Louis Philippe 1 of France.

Miss Haviland & Miss Blennerhassett move to Ashleigh and build Haviland Cottage Miss Catherine Fane Haviland and her cousin Miss Margaret Blennerhasett moved together to "Ashleigh" in 1852, and had three female servants living in the house . During her ownership she had constructed a Coach House and stables in the grounds now known as “Haviland Cottage.”

Miss Haviland and Miss Blennerhasett who termed their occupation as “Gentle-women” appeared regularly on the social scene including "The Fashionable List" [8]. They sold Ashleigh with the accompanying coach house in 1862. Queen Victoria often visited Ashleigh, and the stunning entrance porch standing today is rumoured to have been built for her visits. In one visit in January 1869, she arrived in the Royal Open Carriage with an entourage and a substantial crowd of well wishers gathered outside heartily cheering her on leaving.

Coach House built for Miss Haviland – Madeira Vale 1860 (Drawing from Haviland Cottage) then in the Grounds of "Ashleigh" next door.


The Dick family home “Uppermount” was renamed firstly “Coombe Wood” and later “Peacock Vane” when the much-loved Joan Wolfenden along with her husband ‘Woolfie’ established the very first Country House Hotel. She was also an author and illustrator. Although the property is now known as Peacock Vane, the carved name "Combe Wood" remains on the gate post (There is another story regarding the missing 'o').

Margaret Catherine Dick the real-life Miss Havisham Samuel Dick passed away at Uppermount in 1856 (aged 72) but was buried at his family’s vault in Ashford Kent. Jilted at the altar After his death in 1860, his daughter Margaret Catherine Dick was jilted on the morning of her wedding at Holy Trinity Church and left the family home to live a reclusive life in Madeira Hall. 1860 Dickens's return to the Isle of Wight According to the delightful book “Dickens on an Island” [9] Charles Dickens visited the Island in November/December 1860, perhaps to see his friend Rev.James White, whose daughter died earlier that year – indeed Dicken’s two daughters had visited Bonchurch to give comfort earlier in the year to Rev.White's dying daughter [10]. Dickens, either directly, or through his two daughters or Rev.James White, would have learned about Margaret Dick’s unfortunate aborted wedding, and the arrival of Miss Catherine Haviland into one of the grand houses in the village. It is probable that Rev.James White's letters to Dickens would have been burnt in the great "letter bonfire" of that year, particularly if the Rev.White was due to preside over the marriage of Margaret Dick. It is generally considered that Margaret Dick’s failed marriage was the inspiration for Miss Havisham who was also jilted at the altar in Great Expectations. Opposite Madeira Hall there are former stables and a coach house built in 1860 for a "Miss Haviland" and now called Haviland Cottage. Similar building(s) are mentioned as the coach house to Statis House in Great Expectations. Alan is now convinced that Charles Dickens based the idea of Miss Havisham on Margaret Dick but named the character after her neighbour Catherine Haviland. The dates, location, and similarities to real life match to a tee! Margaret Dick died in 1878 aged 52, leaving Madeira Hall to her brother in her will. She is buried in Ventnor Cemetery in Upper Ventnor. Miss Catherine Haviland also died aged 52 in Lausanne , Switzerland. During this research Alan reflected on what a wonderful summer of 1849 would have been in Bonchurch with this amazing collection of young talent bouncing ideas and creativity off each other. If ever there was a time machine to travel you would set it to July 1849! The Charles Dickens Literary Walks around Bonchurch and Ventnor: Please click on the link below to see the maps.

Alan has curated two walks, one short and one much longer mapping out the key locations on a suggested literary walking tour. See how many Blue Plaques you can find, en route and Alan is hoping to see a couple more plaques in future! The long walk is over two hours and challenging, which includes the beautiful coastal path from Bonchurch Shore to Ventnor Esplanade, up the steep hill to The Royal Hotel, and further up the hill to Ventnor Cemetery which overlooks both Ventnor and Bonchurch and where Margaret Dick (Miss Havisham) is buried. It also takes in the excellent Ventnor Heritage Museum that is a highly recommend visit to see the exhibits.

The Charles Dickens Short Literary Walk

The short walk is just over an hour, and concentrates on the Victorian Celebrity hotspot of Bonchurch, however please be warned that it is fairly hilly. If you enjoyed the walk, please consider making a voluntary donation of £3 or more to the Bonchurch Community Association - which provides for the upkeep of the beautiful village, and for community events. Please make a transfer to the BCA , Sort Code 54-10-34 , Account # 18483488

Ref Haviland

Thanks to all the people who contributed and supported the research

Alan would particularly like to thank Les Matravers (Trustee, Ventnor Heritage Centre), Sue Lowday (Bonchurch Community Association), Geoffrey Christopher (Member of the Dickens Fellowship) & Sean Ridgeway – The Dickens Society, who have enthusiastically helped me with several “gems” of information. Also, to Wayne Giddes: for prompting me to investigate the history of Haviland Cottage, Lin Arnold– Local Playwright and long-time advocate that Margaret Dick was the basis for Miss Havisham, Rev.Hugh Wright – Vicar of Saint Boniface Parish Church, whose drawings are reproduced with their permissions, Vic King – Historian, Lesley Telford: Trustee, Ventnor Heritage Centre & Pamela Parker – Island Photographer.

To see the original research information please visit;

Alan Cartwright

People of Note Staying in Bonchurch During the

Summer of 1849

-Charles Dickens, Novelist, 37 Years old.

-Captain Samuel Dick RN, Retired Naval Officer, 65 years old.

-Margaret Catherine Dick, Daughter of Samuel Dick, 22 years old.

-Catherine Fane Haviland, Gentle-Women , 32 years old.

-Rev.James White, Property Developer and Author, 40 years old.

-Algernon Swinburne, Poet, 12 years old.

-John Leech, Punch Illustrator, 32 Years old.

-Alfred Tennyson, Poet, 40 years old.

-William Makepeace Thackery, Novelist, 38 years old.

-Thomas Carlyle, Writer, 54 years old, writer of “The French Revolution” inspiring Dickens to write “Tale of Two Cities”.

-Mark Lemon, Journalist / Actor, 40 years old, Founded Punch Magazine 8 years earlier.

-Queen Victoria, Monarch 30 years old, residing at Osborne House (East Cowes).

-Queen Adelaide, 59 Years Old, Aunt to Queen Victoria, Wife of the late King William IV, Summer house of Westfield (although ill in London at the time). Adelaide in South Australia named after her.


[1] Where was Dickens? – Philip Currah ( Page 37)

[2] The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 1: 1820–1839 p433 Oh Mr. Groves If so be you approves Of writings in rhyme Knocked off in quick time And set down at once By an indolent dunce Who to Alum bay runs— Read these lines Mr. Groves. Because I've a wife And I swear on my life It would our blushes bring To have that sort of thing,— So no stranger coves If you please Mr. Groves. And when people repair Here, to dine in the air Just give 'em their grub On some barrel or tub In the cow,yard or garden;— I'll bet a brass farden They'll eat as much cheese, And cough spit and sneeze For those same twenty heads Who are coming for beds From Cowes or from Ryde, Or from some hole beside, Don't fit up that "Tent"3 Which in our room is meant For some very small child Of years meek and mild, And make as much shindy As outside our windy; So there put their loaves If you please Mr. Groves And as Ann is a maid By no means afraid Of doing what's right By day or by night, And perfectly able To wait well at table, If she's wrong here and there Don't bluster and swear But of slight faults absolve her. Yours truly—

[3] Royal Hotel History by Georgia Wyatt,Willsmore – April 2016. [4] Volume 5 Pilgrim Charles Dickens a) TO JOHN FORSTER, [26 SEPTEMBER 1849] Extract in F, vi, iii, 504. Date: 26 Sep according to Forster. My plans are all unsettled by Leech's illness; as of course I do not like to leave this place while I can be of any service to him and his good little wife. But all visitors are gone today, and Winterbourne once more left to the engaging family of the inimitable B. Ever since I wrote to you Leech has been seriously worse, and again very heavily bled. The night before last he was in such an alarming state of restlessness, which nothing could relieve, that I proposed to Mrs. Leech to try magnetism. Accordingly, in the middle of the night I fell to; and, after a very fatiguing bout of it, put him to sleep for an hour and thirty,five minutes. A change came on in the sleep, and he is decidedly better. I talked to the astounded little Mrs. Leech across him, when he was asleep, as if he had been a truss of hay. … What do you think of my setting up in the magnetic line with a large brass plate? "Terms, twenty,five guineas per nap." TO MRS JOHN LEECH, [23] SEPTEMBER 1849 MS Benoliel Collection. Date: misdated by CD; Sunday (on which CD and Beard sat up with Leech all night: To Forster, 24 Sep) was 23 Sep in 1849. Address: Mrs. Leech. Winterbourne, Sunday Night | Twenty Seventh September 1849. My Dear Mrs. Leech. I cannot help thinking that it would be better—and that it would be more comfortable for you—if Beard and I came and sat upon the little sofa in the sitting room1 until Morning. I wish you would think with me, and say Yes. The probability is that Leech will fall into a sleep, and get infinitely better, but I don't like to think of you alone there,—and it would be an immense relief to me to be your friend at hand, as I ever am at heart. Let me beg you to think of this again—not for any need's sake (thank God) but for your own greater ease, and ours. Ever Affectionately Yours John waits for a word. [5] Volume 5 Pilgrim Charles Dickens Letter to his Accountants TO F. M. EVANS, 19 JULY 1849* MS Dickens House. Devonshire Terrace | Nineteenth July 1849. My Dear Evans. I want a hundred pounds to be paid into Coutts's, if you can achieve that performance. If convenient, I shall be much obliged to you to do this at once. I enclose a few heads for Mr. Joyce, 2 concerning a weekly visit he will receive, during my absence from town, from Topping. My address, from Monday until the end of September, will be Winterbourne Villa Bonchurch Isle of Wight. If you should ever feel inclined (as I think you will) to run away on a holiday, and will come to the aforesaid address, you shall receive a very hearty welcome, and see a very beautiful place. "A favorable opportunity now offers", as Mr. Pecksniff used to say in his advertisements, 1 and I hope you'll not neglect it. I don't know what the Devil is the matter with your people, in connexion with my Manuscript, but nothing between folio 10 and folio 24 of the last No. is returned. Will you get the missing portion for me, and relieve my mind by blowing up somebody? I think this is all I have to say at present. Faithfully Ever Charles Dickens Have you heard from Bradbury? [6] ]Bonchurch Booklet written by Peter Brett published by the Bonchurch Parochial Church Council. “Dickens had picnics on the downs and at Blackgang attended tea parties with the Swinburne’s at East Dene, dined at “parson Fielden’s” and was entertained by Captain Samuel Dick RN at Uppermount (now Peacock Vane). At Winterbourne he entertained many of his literary friends including Thackeray, Carlyle, Tennyson and Mark Lemon.”

[7] Dickens on an Island - Richard Hutchings 1976

[8] The Fashionable List was a list of gentry who were either resident or were visiting the area

The Hampshire Advertiser , Ventnor January 16th 1869 "VISIT OF THE QUEEN TO ASHLEIGH. - On Saturday afternoon Her Majesty , accompanied by their Royal Highnesses Prince Leopold and Princess Beatrice, and attended by Lady Churchill , honoured Lord and Lady Alfred Paget with a visit at Ashleigh, Bonchurch. Colonel Ponsonby was in attendance as Equerry in Waiting. The Royal carraige, which was open entered Ventnor by way of the Serpentine road , and passed through the town, Her Majesty graciously acknowledging the expressions of loyalty by frequently bowing along the route. On leaving Ashleigh, where a considerable number of visitors and inhabitants had congregated , Her Majesty , in acknowledgement of the hearty cheers given by those assembled bowed and smiled."

[9] Dickens on an Island – Richard Hutchings 1976

[10] Dickens Letter to Elizabeth Sewell in late 1859,60- Extract from the letter: “My "two young ladies" are at Bonchurch on the sad mission of cheering a dying young friend. When they come back, I shall propound to them the idea of their trying their influence with Mrs. Brookfield to induce her and you to come and see us here.”

Note, Miss Sewell is thought to be Elizabeth Missing Sewell (1815–1906) resident in The Pitts Bonchurch, High Church writer for children, whom Charles Dickens had met once at Bonchurch. Alan owns Haviland Cottage and has it available for rent. You can book a Charles Dickens Literary holiday here- booking page.

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