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This year marks two hundred years since one of the greatest novelists and social observers of all time, Charles Dickens, was born. His death came at 58 when he suddenly fell ill one evening in Gad’s Hill Place and died the following day.

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Dickens had spent the afternoon of June 8 1870 writing in the Swiss chalet he had built opposite his home across what is now Gravesend Road.

Rather than walking over the road, he had dug a brick-lined tunnel between the two.

On the side leading to the chalet was a Greek mask of comedy; on the other side, when he would leave his fictional world, was a mask of tragedy.

On the day Dickens had a stroke, he left his chalet and re-entered reality, and the novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, remained forever unfinished.

Dickens’ link to Higham is well known but for the first time his days there have been brought to life.

Signs of the school at Gad’s Hill Place have been pushed aside and the house is now as it once was when Dickens spent his final years here.

Dickens first spotted the house when he was a young boy and resolved to buy it, finally achieving his goal in 1856.

He lived here with his family as well as a long reel of frequent guests including influential writers, artists and actors - it is understood fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen was invited for one week and stayed for five.

With so many literary associations, the house at Gad’s Hill is a cherished monument to Dickens and his Victorian society.

Within the living room are letters from him to friends, each baring different signatures marking his various moods. Posters are on the walls include one advertising the sports day Dickens organised on Boxing Day in 1866.

It is when you reach his study that Dickens’ presence is most felt. His desk and chair are placed as they were on 9 June 1870 when the 58-year-old passed away.

On the left and right hand sides to his desk are mirrors, angled so that he could act out his character’s reactions and articulate specifically how their faces morphed from emotions.

What the study also highlights is Dickens’ humour and taste for satire. The door is made from a bookcase with dummy shelves lined with fictitious titles such as Cat’s Lives (in nine volumes), Hansard’s Guide to Refreshing Sleep and a slither of a book named The Virtues of our Ancestors.

The opening of the Charles Dickens Museum at Gad’s Hill Place is a unique chance for North Kent to welcome home its most famous resident, and the tour does his life justice.

Visit

Gad’s Hill Place is open from July 25 to August 19, Wednesday to Sunday during the afternoons for pre-booked tours.

Ticket prices: Adults £12 (include light afternoon tea in the conservatory) Children £5

To book a tour: Visit www.dickensmuseum.com and follow the links.

Families: Family tours on Wednesday and Saturday only. Email events@dickensmuseum.com or call 0207 405 2127.

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