Monday, 24 June, 2013. We’re more than half-way through the residency. I’ve been out of action for a few days due to a bladder infection. But I’ve been back in the saddle for the weekend event at Hospitalfield, called ‘Small and Close’. When not sitting here, researching this Dickens’ page, I was in the Gallery adding my five-minutes’ worth to the guided tours of the house that were taking place every hour from 11am until 4pm. I can now hear myself talking about those self-portraits by members of the Clique: the same words, over and over again. Time to move on...

I’ll be in the Gallery again today, trying to contain the excitement I’m feeling from being able to engage with actual letters from Charles Dickens to Patrick Allan-Fraser. The first letter that Dickens - then the most famous author in the world - wrote to PAF was dated Monday, 19th April, 1858. So it would have been received here on the Tuesday or Wednesday. I don’t know where Patrick opened his letters, but I’m opening the tissue containing the carefully preserved envelope and letter on the marble desk at the decently lit end of the Gallery. Well, I say marble, but according to George Hay’s
Hospitalfield, the table-top was cut from a great jasper boulder found on the foreshore at Hospitalfield in the days, pre-railway, when its lands extended all the way to the sea.

And this is what I see:


Dickens has written ‘Allan Fraser Esquire, Hospitalfield, Arbroath’ on the front of the envelope. He has also written his own name in the bottom left corner of the envelope, while top right you can just make out a very faded Penny Red.

The delicacy of the tissue and the old letter against the hardness of the jasper is a sight I try to enjoy for its own sake. The content of the letter can wait for a few minutes! I look up at the three big windows at this end of the gallery, and only when I can’t keep my eyes away from it any longer, do I gaze down upon the richly-coloured tabletop:


Tavistock House in Tavistock Square was where Dickens lived in London during the 1850s. It’s where he wrote
Bleak House, Hard Times and Little Dorritt. It’s also where he wrote five letters to Patrick Allan-Fraser, none of which have been published. The first letter covers three sides of the paper, the signature of Dickens appearing at the end of page three after the words: ‘My Dear Sir, always very faithfully yours’’. The signature itself being followed by the name of the addressee, ‘Allan Fraser Esquire’:

dickens_0001 - Version 2

OK, so let’s get down to it. What on earth has the best-known writer in the world got to say to our Pat? Dickens is writing to say that what PAF has proposed in respect of Hawkesbury Hall (the country house near Coventry that Elizabeth and Patrick have inherited following the death of Elizabeth’s mother), gifting it to the Guild of Literature and Art, is something he approves of and is very thankful for. ‘Munificent’ and ‘generous’ are the words that Dickens uses. CD tells PAF that Mr Ouvry, the Guild’s solicitor, suspects that it will be necessary to apply to Parliament to enlarge and amend the Guild’s present constitution. The letter ends with a sentence that might come straight out of
Bleak House and the mock efficiency associated with the endless case of Jarndyce versus Jarndyce: ‘Mr Ouvry deemed it better not to communicate with Mr Roberts until he should have received his case back from Mr Wordsworth. Both he and I will handle the subject (he with Mr Roberts, and I with you), without a moment’s loss of time, you may be sure.’

The second letter from Dickens, written on the third of May, is just to confirm that the Guild’s solicitor has had confirmation that Parliament will indeed have to ratify the change to the constitution. The paper that this letter was written on has yellowed and marbled over time. Here is the letter’s signature, written close to the top of the third page, the second having been left blank, the words preceding it being: ‘I am always my dear sir, most faithfully yours’.


Funny old signature, I can’t help thinking. Very much the same as the first one, all the emphasis in that final curve - in the ’s’ of Dickens - followed by the seven loops of a zig-zagging underline.

The next letter is so brief that the signature is at the foot of the headed page. ‘TAVISTOCK HOUSE, TAVISTOCK SQUARE ‘ is pre-printed at the head of he sheet, this is quilled at the foot, the signature itself preceded by the words: ‘very faithfully yours always’:


Only five squig-squags (flip-flops? scrib-scrabs?) under the signature this time. Does that mean anything? A handwriting expert might have a view. In the meantime, let me push on with my
Great Expectations.

The fifth letter from Dickens, written on Saturday, May 22, 1858, basically says that it will not be until November 1859 that the Guild will be in position to take forward the Hawkesbury Hall gift scheme. The letter ends with the delightful sentiment:
‘We will take the field as soon as the forms permit us, in November next. Meanwhile and always, on railways and off, by land and sea, may all safety, happiness and prosperity be yours and Mrs Fraser’s!’

NIce to have such a gung-ho sentence written to you by the one and only Charles D, mentioning both yourself and your loved one. Wonderful, in fact.

On Sunday, May 23, 1858, the very day after writing the above letter to Patrick, Dickens wrote to his own lawyer (the same Mr Ouvry!) concerning the settlement with his wife, Catherine. Catherine Hogarth had given birth to ten children while married to Charles Dickens but their relationship had disintegrated. The following letter (not on headed notepaper, but with the distinctive Dickens signature) only came to light in 2012, when it was sold at Sotheby’s, the estimate being £1500. I’ve decided to display a full-page reproduction of this letter rather than any of Hospitalfield’s own letters, thereby holding something back for the time being. I’ll provide a transcription below the photograph:


‘Dear Ouvry, I have considered and re-considered the points we talked of yesterday, and have gone over them again with Foster. We must positively come off for a payment of Six Hundred a year, including everything. This will keep her Brougham quite as well she has ever had it kept, and will do all she wants, I am sure.
The heads for that draft of my will, I will send you tomorrow. Faithfully yours always, Charles Dickens.’

So what was going on? Well, in 1857 Charles Dickens, aged 45, had met and fallen in love with Ellen Ternan, an actress who was 27 years younger than he was. As well as her youth, Ellen had energy and intellect, which, according to Dickens, Catherine didn’t have. (Mind you, twenty-years of incessant pregnancy and child-rearing would blunt, or rather re-route, the mental development of anyone.) Matters came to a head in 1858 when Catherine Dickens opened a packet delivered by a London jeweller which contained a gold bracelet meant for Ternan with a note written by her husband. The Dickenses separated in May, 1858, after 22 years of marriage.

Let me commemorate that moment of change with a photograph in the Gallery involving one of the letters that Dickens sent to Patrick in that same month of May, 1858. I don’t suppose Catherine Dickens has as much respect for the words of Charles Dickens as some people do. By 1858 I think she’d probably have been quite happy to trample his self-serving letters into the ground or drop them into her bath water, whichever seemed more practical at the time. I however, have a great deal of respect for the heritage value of these words and it is with great care that I dust a surface of marble, lift the letter and place it as I do. What may seem casual to the eye is nothing of the kind.


This is bringing to mind some work that Cornelia Parker did with a Charles Dickens motif. If I remember rightly, she used a white silk handkerchief to remove tarnish from a knife used by the Dickens family and then displayed the handkerchief. And when she made an exhibition, whose centrepiece was Tilda Swinton lying in a glass vitrine in the Serpentine, elsewhere in the room, in smaller vitrines, were placed objects relating to high-achieving males. For instance, the goose quill of Charles Dickens. Perhaps the very quill he used to write letters to his lover.

The white marble statue in the Gallery,
Clytie with a sunflower, by William Henry Rinehart, makes as good an Ellen Ternan as it does a Catherine Dickens. So how about the image below, with Ellen Ternan, or Nelly as she was known, holding a letter from Dickens in her hand? (It just happens to be a letter that CD sent to PAF that she’s got hold of. But she needn’t worry, she won’t have to wait long for letters of her own. Letters full of admiration, kisses, promises, presents and promises of presents.) Again I take great care. The letter fits beautifully into Clytie's hand and is held there in absolute safety.


Careful Nelly, do not grip the paper tightly as moisture will flow from your lily-white hand to the paper. You are but flesh and blood after all. If CD pricks your index finger, does it not bleed?

I hasten to repeat that I’m actually handling these valuable letters minimally, having carefully photographed them in order to be able to read them at my leisure (and to make the words available to others once that’s been discussed in-house), then placing them gently back in their tissue guards.


Once again, no strain was placed upon the fabric of this letter in placing it so. No risk was taken that the precious sheets of paper that came all the way from Tavistock House would become dislodged from their marble resting place.

Perhaps my motivation for photographing the letters in this context is to emphasise that they are part of the fabric of Hospitalfield House and collection. The exquisitely written delicacies add to the weight - and lightness! - of the history that’s to be found within these walls. No way should these letters ever be cashed. They are worth 100 times their monetary value to Hospitalfield in their present form. Dickens sent the letters to Patrick here, and here they must surely stay. I’m hoping this text will somehow help with that.

But let’s get back to 1858, the year Patrick met Charles in London and - as is revealed by a letter from Augustus Egg to Patrick Allan Fraser in early August - intended to meet him again under his own roof in Arbroath. More than that, Patrick hoped that Dickens might speak at the venue for public lectures that Patrick had helped set up in Arbroath:

augustusegg - Version 2

The above extract reads: ‘
My Dear Allan, I have just had a letter from Dickens and from what he says he does see that there is much chance of his being able to reach Arbroath but he also says...

The rest of the letter, in so far as it refers to Dickens, goes on to say: if you would be kind enough to send him some particulars of the place, for example, how far it is from Glasgow, and how many its room will hold then he will discuss the possibilities and let you know afterwards. He bids me say also that he will make an appointment to see you with the greatest pleasure either at Edinburgh on the 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th of September, Dundee Oct 1st and 2nd, and Glasgow on the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th, so you have only to fix upon which day will be most convenient to you and let him know. He will be in Liverpool on the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st of this month at Radley’s Adelphi Hotel so when you write perhaps you had better direct to him there.’

Augustus Egg, accomplished artist, leading man or personal secretary? He seems to have performed several roles in life. Anyway, Dickens does indeed appear to have been in Liverpool, in the middle of his extremely popular reading tour of Great Britain, when he received a letter from Patrick. We don’t know what Patrick’s letter said, but the letter that Dickens then wrote has been published. The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens runs to 10 volumes. In the overall index , ‘Allan-Fraser’ directs you to page 630 of volume 8. Here is an extract from the page itself, courtesy of the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ function, as I don’t have £154 to shell out for the volume of letters that covers the period 1856 to 1858. Apparently, the letter comes from a private collection. I wonder whose, since the letter was obviously once here at Hospitalfield, though I suspect it is not now. (If anyone knows, could they kindly pass on the information and I’ll clarify the position.) Anyway, the letter reads:

Screen shot 2013-06-15 at 15.30.19

Reading the letters on either side of this, one comes across one to Edmund Yates within which Dickens writes with such glee about hall sizes and takings that one can’t quite trust the modesty of his remarks on the subject within the letter to PAF:

‘A wonderful house here last night. The largest in numbers and the largest in money we have ever had, including St Martin’s Hall. There were 2,300 people, and 200 guineas. The very books were all sold out, early in the evening, and Arthur bathed in cheques - took headers into tickets - floated on billows of passes - dived under weirs of shillings - staggered home, faint with gold and silver.’

Presumably PAF attended one of the talks and met Dickens again, but I don’t know. Dickens had this to say about his appearances during the tour, though I’ve also included this sample from the Pilgrim edition of the letters because of the editor’s mention of Dundee, marked in orange near the foot of the extract. Dickens’ had been reading in Scotland, the fourth of his four dates in Glasgow being the day before he wrote this letter.

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 09.46.28

The Dickens’ letter to John Forster goes on as follows. The ‘girls’ he mentions near the end are his own daughters.

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 09.46.48

That’s it for 1858. Dickens is exhausted. Patrick is exhausted (presuming he was one of the crowd at Dundee or Edinburgh or Glasgow). I am exhausted. No that’s not right. It’s still morning; I’m fresh and I need to bash on with this following the lost days when I was ill.

From 1858 until 1862, things stood still as far as Hawkesbury Hall was concerned. That is, the property of Patrick and Elizabeth was to be made over to Dickens’ Guild. I suspect that all that was going on in Dickens’ mind in May 1858 culminated in the plan for a book. When the weekly journal ‘All the Year Round’ began to lose sales in 1860, when in the middle of a particularly dull serial by Charles Lever (
A Long Day’s Ride was proving to be a very long and tiresome read) Dickens decided to introduce a new work by himself, something he’d already planned out, to be called Great Expectations.

Here is how I see the principle cast:

Pip (aka young Charles Dickens): Who learns that he has great expectations in that an unknown benefactor has bequeathed him a valuable estate.
Miss Havisham (aka Catherine Dickens turned from overweight malcontent to skeletal superbitch): A woman now old, who has never forgotten her wedding day when she was jilted by her bethrothed.
Estella (aka Ellen Ternan): The beautiful and aloof young woman who bewitches Pip.
Magwitch (Patrick Allan-Fraser!): Pip’s unknown benefactor. In fact, a convict who makes a fortune on the other side of the world.

Yes, I’m hypothesising that
Great Expectations was a way of Dickens weaving an imaginative tale around a structure given him by the deep feelings aroused by his relations with three people: his estranged wife, the lover who goes on to make his life a misery, and the man who has promised him Hawkesbury Hall! Not sure that anyone else has ever summarised Great Expectations like this, but then how many people know about the letters here at Hospitalfield? Also, I know through my research into the lives of Enid Blyton and Evelyn Waugh how the impact on an author’s writing of what happens in his or her life can be underestimated or even overlooked. Everything that Waugh wrote was inspired by things that happened to him. The happenings produced emotions in the writer - and the most effective way for him to get back to those emotions and explore them was to reinvent much the same happenings in ‘fiction’.

Of course, Patrick would have been reading
Great Expectations as it came out in weekly parts starting in December 1860. Here are the bound volumes as they stand in the library today:


And here is the opening page of
GE as it was first made available to the public, amongst whom it surely had no more eager reader than Patrick Allan-Fraser:


On the opening page we are introduced to the escaped convict who accosts Pip in a graveyard. He will end up being Pip’s mysterious benefactor, but at this stage there would be nothing to dampen Patrick’s thrill of the evocative meeting of innocent child and desperate adult.

The library here at Hospitalfield boasts a turret at one side of it, accessed by a door. I envisage Patrick taking his copy of
All the Year Round up to the top of this turret where there is a circular landing, with space to sit in the window recesses which let in excellent light to read by.


So perhaps it was here that Patrick first read this teaser of a paragraph in the issue of February 9, 1861. Anyway, it’s here I’m reading it, admiring the way that the black print has been smacked with such force onto the paper. One can’t mistake old-fashioned typesetting:


A handsome property! There is plenty more to be made of this material. Indeed I feel I’m in the middle of telling an enthralling story. I think it’s appropriate though that I do it in instalments. Bear with me, gentle reader, until I get a chance to post the next instalment of my own
Great Expectations.

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, 26 June, 2013. Two of my fellow artists-in-residence gave presentations of their work last night. Very interesting, but the words ‘Great Expectations’ did not even pass their lips. I guess it must be up to me to follow through on this.

Just as Dickens was getting into the flow of weekly publication, Patrick Allan-Fraser was preparing his own
magnum opus for the outside world. An Unpopular View of our Times runs to just short of 600 pages. It was self-published by PAF, though the name of Myles MacPhail of Edinburgh does appear on the title page. So does the book’s strap-line, if that’s the right word for the following: ‘Being the result of a free enquiry into the existing sources of demoralisation, and the causes that have rendered inefficacious the schemes of social reformers lay and clerical.’

I’ve been told that the main tower at Hospitalfield would have been completed by this time and that Patrick had a writing room in it. I’ve also been told that his writing room was the room beneath the one holding the telescope. But I can’t believe that, as the room is dark and small (and at present used for storing paintings). So I’ve got Patrick sharing space with his telescope, pointing his telescope at Arbroath, all the better for him to make his free enquiry into existing sources of demoralisation and to work out what has rendered inefficacious the schemes of reformers lay and clerical.


In Chapter five of the book, whose theme is education, there is a section called: ‘The commercial Prosperity of Literature not necessarily a proof of Intellectual Progress’. I’m going to include some quotes here as the whole Dickens scenario seems relevant to the words, indeed may have inspired them:


That’s the foot of page 304. My copy of this book, a great mouldering lump of pages that are on the one hand uncut (nobody has read this copy) and, on the other, detached from their bindings (nobody else ever will read this book) was given to me by Willie Payne a few years ago, plucking the book from a cupboard full of them. I did cut a few of the pages in order to gain access to the words which I made a little progress with.

Here’s the whole of page 305 of Patrick’s Unpopular View, carrying on the sentence ‘On the contrary, that over-‘:


This is reminding me that novel-reading was one of the first mass popular entertainments, long before cinema, TV and the internet. Not that PAF’s book was a popular. But Scott’s
oeuvre was and so was that of Dickens. The circulation of ‘All the Year Round’, when Great Expectations was driving up readership, could be as high as 300,000. That was higher than the daily sales of the London Times.

Anyway, back to Pat’s
Unpopular View:


Who is Patrick thinking of here? Well, surely Walter Scott, who wrote himself into an early grave at the age of 61 in 1830. At the time of writing, in 1861, Patrick wouldn’t have known that Dickens would die before his time in the midst of the overexcitement of a book tour, in 1870, at the age of just 58. A man who most certainly drove himself (his imaginative faculty, his mental powers in general) in order to maximise his celebrity and the financial benefits to be derived from such. But let’s follow Patrick’s argument a bit further:


I told myself I’d stop at the first mention of God, so that’s what I’ll do. Though when I take a proper look at Pat’s book on another page of this website it’s the religious dimension that I’m going to have to tackle head on.

For all PAF’s contrasting of ‘feverish excitement’ with ‘healthy intelligence’ I can imagine Patrick himself pausing during the writing of his magnum opus, eager for distraction. Yes, I can see him sitting in the tower after a couple of hours thinking and writing, suddenly wondering if the latest issue of ‘All the Year Round’ had found its way to his library yet. Hadn’t the Dickens serial reached a particularly exciting stage? Well, yes, the story was constantly coming up with cliffhangers. Patrick didn’t exactly approve of such recreational reading, but nor was he going to abstain from following
Great Expectations, a book that seemed to have been written with the main intention of teasing the owner of Hawkesbury Hall. And with that, Patrick would make his way to the library. Or rather to the turret attached to the library:


On the strength of his great expectations, Pip has been living the life of a gentleman in London. On attaining the age of 21 he began to receive £500 a year from his mysterious benefactor (who for a long time Pip thought was Miss Havisham). He’s rejected his good, simple friends from back home and he’s living a life of sophistry and selfishness in London. Well, no, he has managed to rise above self-interest now and again, but in general he’s come to feel rather ashamed of himself.

Pip’s living in a fine flat in the Temple, down by the river, when one night he is visited by a wretch of a man. Here is the scene where Pip is trying to come to terms with the presence of his uninvited guest:


By the end of the thrilling instalment, Pip has to get his head around the fact that his way of life is financed by this man who has worked long and hard over the years as a sheep farmer in Australia. Pip’s fine clothes were bought through the sweat of this man’s brow. It’s tough for Pip to take. Disgust and shame are the two feelings that threaten to engulf him.


Now that episode went out into the world on May 11, 1861. It was just a month later that Patrick was distributing copies of
An Unpopular View of Our Times. We know this because of the letters of acknowledgement that came from his old chums of the Clique. WP Frith, Augustus Egg, EM Ward and Henry O’Neill all wrote to him at Hospitalfield between June 24 and July 4, 1861. What about Charles Dickens? I feel sure that Patrick would not have been able to resist sending him a copy of his magnum opus. (‘My dear Sir, Please find enclosed An Unpopular View of our Times, a humble complement to your own Hard Times’).

And really Dickens should have taken a minute to acknowledge the book’s existence, if nothing else. I can’t help feeling this would have helped the chances of the gift of Hawkesbury Hall going ahead. But perhaps Charles Dickens was in a different head space by the summer of 1861. After all, Magwitch, Pip’s mysterious benefactor, had been transported to Australia for life at the beginning of
Great Expectations, and in coming back to see Pip, to see what a gentleman his money had paid for, he was placing his fortune at risk. If he was caught by the authorities, he’d be convicted of a felony and his estate would go to the crown. Pip would have great expectations no more.

In other words, Dickens had perhaps worked through his own great expectations: they were false expectations. A true gentleman was born as such or became one through the exercise of moral choice. Pip (Dickens) had made too may bad choices in life and would never be a true gentleman. But by making honest decisions from then on, by treating other human beings fairly and with empathy, that was how Pip (Dickens) could still make the most of himself and preserve some self-esteem. That was how he could contribute to the sum of human happiness.

Screen shot 2013-06-23 at 21.23.01

Great Expectations was nearly finished (the last episode appeared on August 3, 1861) when a copy of An Unpopular View of Our Times would have rolled up at Gads Hill in Kent, where Dickens then lived apart from Catherine but with many of their children. What did he do with the unsolicited book?

I like to think that Dickens sat and envisaged how he might have written the May number if he’d had the oddity of a book to hand then, in particular the scene when Magwitch turns up at Pip’s abode.

CD (to himself): “Yes, tis I Magwitch who has spent the last ten years labouring so that you, Pip, could live the life of a city gent. But it wasn’t all manual toil, there was head work involved too. See the fruits of my nightly labour written by the light of a guttering candle!”

CD (still thinking, still visualising): ‘Pip recoils in disgust from the man who holds the lumpen book in front of him like a talisman. The idea that Pip might have to read the 600 pages and come up with words of praise for it appal him. Nevertheless Pip is aware that if he expresses what he is thinking aloud, his visitor would be quite capable of taking the brick of a book, which has
Nosce te Ipsum printed on its cover - and bashing Pip’s brains out with it. Pip over. Pip out. So Pip smiles and puts the book on his bedside table, assuring his guest that it would be his night-time reading until every drop of knowledge and wisdom contained in each of the book’s pages has been safely soaked up by his mind, the mind of a gentleman.’

OK I need to come back to earth here. While it’s true that both the way
Great Expectations turned out re the mysterious benefactor, and the lack of any acknowledgement of An Unpopular View from the master of Gads Hill, may have piqued Patrick Allan-Fraser, I’m sure it didn’t fundamentally change anything. In good faith, Patrick still had Hawkesbury Hall marked down as a gift for Dickens’ Guild of Literature and Arts. In any case, things moved swiftly to a head in 1862.

In the archive at Hospitalfield, there is a copy letter from Frederic Ouvry to PAF informing him that some members of the Guild were to visit Hawkesbury Hall in June. They wouldn’t have had Google to help them locate the place back then, but I do. The hall is just to the north of Coventry, in a place called Parrot’s Grove. Here is how it appears on Google maps:

Screen shot 2013-06-25 at 12.06.22

Unfortunately, there are no images of the hall itself on Google. Perhaps much of it has been demolished. I’m not sure but will try and find out.

What did Dickens think of the place? I think there are clues to that in this letter that Dickens sent to his lawyer from the office of ‘All the Year Round’, which was his London base after the sale of Tavistock House, his marriage home. I’ve lifted this from volume 10 of the
Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens:

Screen shot 2013-06-25 at 16.23.22

Interesting that Dickens is not dealing directly with Patrick any more. Either because of distance created by previous correspondence, or because Dickens feels that the most productive way forward is likely to be via cunning (lawyerly) contact: Below is a transcription of the letter that Ouvry sent to Patrick that same day, June 12, 1862:

‘My Dear Sir,
Mr Dickens and Mr Wills have been to see your house and went over it with much interest and pleasure. May [illegible] on the part of the Guild ask what conditions you would propose to annex to the gift.
Yours truly
Frederic Ouvry’

Patrick would have been pleased that Dickens set foot on his property. Hospitalfield might have been a step too far for the busy Dickens of 1858, but, post-
Great Expectations, he’d taken a stroll around the grounds of Hawkesbury Hall and obviously liked the feeling of fine English turf under his foot, albeit the atmosphere inside had brought to mind the phrase ‘House of Gloom’.

Patrick kept a copy of his response to the lawyer’s letter. It covers four pages and gets increasingly difficult to read. But I’ll place the photograph above my transcription of at least the first page. So that you, gentle reader, can judge for yourself how trustworthy my own interpretation might be:


‘19th June 1862
My Dear Sir,
The conditions I would have annexed to the Gift are as follows. The property shall never be sold or let or otherwise occupied than as a residence and recreation ground for those for whose comfort and support the Guild intends to provide. No timber shall be felled or any fences removed and in order that the present appearance and character of the place may be, as far as possible, maintained in all time coming all trees and growing fences that die or may be prematurely destroyed by natural and other causes must be replaced by young trees and fences of the same kind.’

The letter goes on to say:

spirit of these conditions with some reservations required for the working out of the mines and for the convenience of my tenants of the fields adjoining I would have embedded in the deed by which the property will be conveyed to the Guild. I would further stipulate on another request that two years or as long a period as the arrangements of the Council and the requirements of the members may permit shall lapse before I give up possession. I ask this not with the view to delaying the proceedings necessary for completing the legal transfer of the property but because I am desirous that my wife may have at least one more opportunity of visiting or seeing Hawkesbury Hall before it ceases to be in our power to make it our home.

‘The forgoing I could have sent to you immediately on receipt of your last letter but some doubts having arisen in my mind since I perused the copy of the Act which you gave me the other day. I have taken time to weigh these and now while extremely unwilling to appear over-cautious would ask you to read [illegible] throughout and then tell me if I am right or wrong in supposing the power to sell grants demise and therein contained may be applied to all land and property wherever the Guild shall have any estate or interest”
except “the land intended to be granted by Sir Edward G.S. Lytton Bulwer the residences to be erected thereon.”And such other lands as be allowed or may for the accommodation exercise or recreation of those who are to reside in the houses to be erected on the land intended to be granted by Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer.’

I should just say here that Lytton Bulwer was a great friend of Dickens, and a fellow writer, whose own serial began in ‘All the Year Round’ when Great Expectations finished. He also recommended that Dickens change the end of Great Expectations, a recommendation that Dickens took up. Instead of Pip’s final meeting with Estella being the meeting of two broken individuals who had gained humanity through their respective sufferings, and who then go their separate ways, it becomes the meeting of two broken people who have found sufficient humanity that they might live out the rest of their lives together. As with Charles Dickens and Ellen Ternan?

But back to Patrick’s earnest attempt to gift Hawkesbury Hall to the Guild; his attempt to gain meaningful assurances from Dickens’ lawyer about the security of his gift:

‘You will see what I mean as the Act specifies the lands and residences over which the permit to sell grants demise and is not to extend [illegible] before the acceptance of my Gift by the present members of the Council can bind their successors and respect new conditions the property must be protected from the dealing and selling power contained [in the Act].

I remain
my dear sir
very truly yours
Patrick Allan Fraser.’

William Payne, director of Hospitalfield from about 1975 to 2012, has suggested that Patrick had got wind of the fact that Charles Dickens was likely to sell the whole place to raise funds to bale out other ‘interests’ of his, and refused to transfer titles until there was protection from this in the deeds.

Anyway, the following is Mr Ouvry’s reply:


And this is how I’ve transcribed the above handwriting:

’21 June 1862

My Dear Sir,
I will [report] your letter to the Guild. With regard to the power of selling contained in this Act. I apprehend it would be controlled by the stipulation of the deed. – That the Guild therefore could not confer a good title on the purchaser. And that if a sale was attempted it would work a forfeiture of which [no] heir could avail himself.
Frederic Ouvry’

Did these weasel words satisfy PAF? Apparently not, though this time he didn’t keep a copy of his reply. The final letter from the usurious Mr Ouvry (actually I’ve no idea if he doubled up as a money lender, the word just wants to attach itself to his name) is in the Hospitalfield archive. It reads:


15 July, 1862,
My dear Sir,
The Council of the Guild of Literature and Art have taken into their consideration the gift kindly proposed to be made by you and the conditions which you propose to annex to it. In the present condition of the Guild the Council feel that they ought not to accept the responsibility of the gift coupled with the conditions, which you not unnnaturally wish to guard it. I am therefore instructed on behalf of the Guild gratefully to decline the gift.
Believe me, yours truly, Frederic Ouvry.’

Do I hear sighing in the foreground? Never mind Patrick. You’ll get it right next time. When the time comes for you and Elizabeth to gift Hospitalfield to the artists and writers of tomorrow, you’ll have it all thought though. No need to pass it to them via the enormous ego and fragile finances of Mr Charles Dickens.

Do I hear sobbing in the background? Come on, Pip, pick yourself up from the gravel drive of the House of Gloom, and dust yourself down, lad. After all, you’ve got someone to hold hands with from now on in. No-one could ask for more.

Is that about it for this page?

Pip. Over.

Pip. Out.

William Payne points out that the room in the tower that Patrick had fitted out as a writing room was two floors below the top room (the one with the telescope) in the tower.

Willie reminds me that in Patrick’s time the library was not where it is now, but was only moved there in the late 1970s. So perhaps Pat is less likely to have read ‘All the Year Round’ in the room at the top of the turret as I’ve suggested. That particular copy of ‘All the Year Round’ does have PAF’s initials at the foot of the title page all right, so we can be pretty sure he read it somewhere in the building.

Lucy Byatt intends to archive the letters at Hospitalfield, including those from Charles Dickens, in a way that is state of the art in terms of allowing public access while at the same time preserving the letters for visitors of the future.