Charles Dickens’ great, great grandson Mark Dickens has unveiled a plaque at the University of Portsmouth to mark the place where 146 years ago the city’s most famous son spent his last night in the city.
The plaque will be hung on Rees Hall, one of the University’s halls of residence, in Southsea Terrace. The hall was built on the site of a hotel called at times through its history the Pier Hotel, the Royal Pier Hotel and Solent Pier Hotel.
Charles Dickens was the “world’s first superstar”, according to Mark, and he spent the night of May 25, 1866 at the hotel giving a public reading of his works as part of a national tour.
The unveiling was attended by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Frank Jonas, the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Rebecca Bunting, members of the Dickens Fellowship and three great, great grandsons’ of the author, Mark, Gerald and Ian.
Mark Dickens said: “Several hundred people were gathered here to hear him give his readings. He made them laugh and he made them cry – he was a great amateur actor.
“He was the world’s first superstar and I only wish I could have been there to hear him, or that there had been recordings made so we could hear him now.
“It is difficult to fully understand the impact his writing had – by writing in magazines he could reach huge audiences. His writing was so powerful it changed people’s lives, it opened the eyes of the ruling classes to the plight of ordinary men and women. He was a champion of the underprivileged and he used his talent for writing to help bring about social justice.
“His captivating characters are around us still.”
The plaque will be mounted on Rees Hall’s exterior when scaffolding erected to paint the exterior is removed.