Charles Dickens Birthplace, 393 Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth
On a Thursday evening in February 1812, the pregnant young wife of John Dickens, a £120-a-year clerk in the Pay Office at Portsmouth Dockyard, left her little house in Mile End Terrace — now more prosaically identified as 393 Commercial Road — and went to a local Ball.
Early next morning, on Friday, February 7, Elizabeth gave birth to a son: Charles Dickens.
When only two years old the infant left Portsmouth with his parents and elder sister, Fanny, and so far as is known he did not return there until 1858, when the famous novelist gave one of his “Readings”.
His parents’ house is now the Dickens Birthplace Museum and has been in the care of the City since 1903 when, thankfully, the Corporation saved the house from demolition by buying it at public auction. The entire terrace is now safe as a Conservation Area.
Papa Dickens was more convivial than thrifty and, in spite of having a salary rise of £20 a year, before leaving Portsmouth the family had to rent a smaller and cheaper house in Hawke Street, Portsea, which was destroyed by air bombardment in the 1939-45 war.
But the birthplace (also the birth-room itself) is established beyond any doubt. There is period furniture in the Museum. No evidence exists of what the Dickens’s garden looked like in 1812: its present design was reconstructed from early photographs and is set out with such plants and shrubs as were usual for that type of dwelling in the 19th century. Nevertheless, a tribute to Portsmouth’s most world-renowned son is offered in the front garden. In season, it is ablaze with the favourite flower of Charles Dickens—geraniums.
393 Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth today. The parking is not easy and unfortunately you think you are entering a poor 60′s estate when you follow the signs. The street itself is marooned, with the dual-carriageway on the docks side, and an ugly estate where perhaps there were cherry orchards in the 1800s, that’s progress!