Charles Dickens 150th anniversary: From a pub to a jug in Welwyn Hatfield

PUBLISHED: 14:10 09 June 2020 | UPDATED: 14:17 09 June 2020

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens


On the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ death, the Welwyn Hatfield Times is delving into the author’s history with Welwyn Hatfield.

The Eight Bells in Hatfield. Picture: Alan Davies. The Eight Bells in Hatfield. Picture: Alan Davies.

From a jug to a pub, the links to the Victorian author who died on June 9, 1870 are widespread throughout our borough.

The most famous of which is his visit to Old Hatfield’s The Eight Bells, when he was a young journalist covering the death of Marchioness of Salisbury after a fire in Hatfield House. Marie Amelia – who was blind but still went hunting well into her 80s – supposedly caused the fire when a candle and her hat caught alight in 1835.

The Eight Bells pub. Picture: Danny LooThe Eight Bells pub. Picture: Danny Loo

The small inn and Grade II Listed building, which has been going since 1226, was where Dickens stayed during his time and became the inspiration for the pub that Bill Sikes flees to after murdering Nancy in Oliver Twist.

Dickens writes: “Morning and noon had passed, and the day was on the wane, and still he rambled to and fro, and up and down, and round and round, and still lingered about the same spot. At last he got away, and shaped his course for Hatfield.”

Knebworth House from the air. Picture: Rob RyderKnebworth House from the air. Picture: Rob Ryder

Sikes then flees – after he hears people discussing his murder outside The Eight Bells – and “agitated by no stronger feeling than a doubt where to go” decides to journey along the road from Hatfield to St Albans.

Later, his friendship with Edward Bulwer Lytton, 1st Lord Lytton of Knebworth, was to prove crucial to the rewriting of Great Expectations.

William Henry Wills. Picture: Submitted.William Henry Wills. Picture: Submitted.

Lytton objected to the “sad” ending where there is no glimmer of hope for Pip and Estella – the central love story in the novel – getting married.

Instead Estella has not remarried when they meet and Pip says he “saw the shadow of no parting from her”.

A corridor in the Eight Bells pub. Picture: Danny LooA corridor in the Eight Bells pub. Picture: Danny Loo

Dickens also regularly journeyed to Knebworth House to join in with the Lytton family’s plays.

His friendship with journalist William Henry Wills, who died at Sherrards, Welwyn, is also well documented.

The Eight Bells in Hatfield. Picture: Alan Davies. The Eight Bells in Hatfield. Picture: Alan Davies.

Wills was entrusted with delivering letters to Dickens’ mistress Ellen ‘Nell’ Ternan, after the couple met when the novelist was 45 and Nell was 18.

In 2012, a silver claret jug given by Dickens to Wills, was sold at Christie’s in London to a mystery bidder for £28,750.

The Eight Bells Pub in Old Hatfield. Picture: Karyn Haddon.The Eight Bells Pub in Old Hatfield. Picture: Karyn Haddon.

The film The Invisible Woman, based on the affair, was also filmed in Leavesden Film Studios in Hertfordshire.

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