The House at Landport [Portsmouth] where Charles Dickens was born
Source: Forster, I, 4
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[This image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose.]
Dickens's Biographers on the House where he was born: Edgar Johnson
The baby who was to be named Charles Dickens was born in a little house at 387 Mile End Terrace, Landport, Portsea, on February 7, 1812. On the mantel ticked a small mahogany-cased clock; somewhere in the house there was a little sister called Fanny, only a few months over a year old herself. The building was one of a row of attached brick houses, with two windows to the right of a paneled door between narrow white pilasters, two more windows above, and an attic lit by a low rectangle of window in its sloping roof. A minute square of garden lay between each house and the street, and another square of green behind. John Dickens had exuberantly taken the house when he was married, almost three years before, although its annual rent of £3 was nearly one-third of his entire salary. But now, although it was but modest house and his income had risen to £140 a year, he was finding it too dear for him. On June 2 before their baby son was six months old, the Dickens family moved to a cheaper house at 18 Hawke Street.
John Dickens was at this time a lively, talkative, energetic young man of around twenty-six. He worked faithfully at his post, which was that of clerk in the Navy Pay Office; and he talked vividly and entertainingly, even if somewhat magniloquently. He was generous, kindly warm-hearted; he loved to play host to his friends over a bottle of win or a hot bowl of punch; his manner was ornately genteel. No one would have guessed that his father, William Dickens, had been steward at Crewe Hall or his mother before her marriage a servant in the house of the Marquess of Blandford, in Grosvenor Square; and that his mother was even now housekeeper at Crewe. (Johnson 1: 5)
Dickens's Biographers on the House where he was born: Peter Ackroyd and Fred Kaplan
Peter Ackroyd's best-selling biography notes that the century's most celebrated novelist was born "in a small first-floor bedroom in the area known as New Town or Mile End, just on the outskirts of Portsmouth" (1). Ackroyd is skeptical about Elizabeth Dickens's later assertion
that she went to a ball on the night before [Charles Dickens's] birth . . . [since] no ball is mentioned in the area for that particular evening. 
Thus, a little historical research once again disproves an apocryphal story, much as we might like it to be true. Apparently so proud was he of the birth of a son — he and Elizabeth already had a daughter (Fan) — that John Dickens had a line inserted in the local newspaper: "On Friday, at Mile-End Terrace, the Lady of John Dickens Esq., a son" (Cited in Ackroyd 2). Three weeks later at St. Mary's Kingston nearby the infant officially received the Christian names "Charles John Huffam," after his godfather, John Huffam, at that time a close friend of his father's.
Fred Kaplan agrees with Ackroyd that the house, though quiet and respectable, was both "modest and narrow" (Kaplan 19), the residence of a family desperately clinging to middle class status on the modest pay of a clerk in the Naval Pay Office. Five months later, the Dickens, perhaps out of financial necessity, gave up Mile-End Terrace for 16 Hawke Street, and them, at Christmas 1813, moved again to 39 Wish Street as their second son, Alfred, was born (this child died in September). Late in 1814 as a result of a transfer by the Naval Pay Office, the Dickenses returned to London, specifically to 10, Norfolk Street, in the densely populated area between Tottenham Court Road and Great Portland Street (Kaplan 22), before yet another transfer brought them to Charles's beloved Kent in January 1817.
Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.
Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens. The "Charles Dickens Edition." 2 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, [n. d.]
Johnson, Edgar. Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph. Vol. 1. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952.
Kaplan, Fred. Dickens: A Biography. New York: William Morrow, 1988.
Last modified 17 July 2007