For such a small island, Portsmouth punches well above its weight when it comes to literary connections. Some of Britain’s best-loved authors have connections with the city, and it was here that one of fiction’s most enduring characters was first brought to life…
Probably the most famous author to have Portsmouth connections is Charles Dickens. The author, social critic and reformist was born here in 1812, when his father was stationed at the dockyard. Dickens was born on Mile End Terrace, which is now Old Commercial Road. This terraced house is today the Charles Dickens’ Birthplace Museum, which contains a number of artefacts which belonged to the great author – including the couch on which he passed away. It has been painstakingly redecorated in the Regency style, to accurately replicate how it would have looked during Dickens’ time.
Other authors to have called the city home include journalist and writer Rudyard Kipling and sci-fi trailblazer HG Wells. Kipling lived on Campbell Road between the ages of 5 and 11, after being moved to Britain by his parents for schooling. Wells, meanwhile, spent time as a draper’s assistant on St Paul’s Road. He’s notorious for disliking his time here, but that’s thought to be as much to do with his distaste for the drudgery of the job as for anything to do with the city itself.
Our literary connection’s don’t start and end with authors, though. Portsmouth is also the place where a true icon of literary fiction first came to life. Sherlock Holmes may have resided in London’s Baker Street, but he first sprang onto the page in Southsea. Writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was working as a GP at what is now Bush Villas on Elm Grove when he penned the first and second Sherlock Holmes novels (A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four). Today, Portsmouth holds the world’s largest collection of Doyle memorabilia in the world – some of which is on display at Portsmouth Museum.
In addition to all of the above, Portsmouth has also been the home of Neil Gaiman, Michelle Magorian, Sir Walter Besant, Christopher Hitchens, George Meredith, Graham Hurley, Nevil Shute and Maggie Sawkins.
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