You might be forgiven for not knowing that one of the biggest authors of the 19th century had links with Slough, then a small agricultural town outside of London, close to Windsor and Eton home to the public boys school of the same name.
Firstly Charles Dickens publisher Bentleys was based in Upton, Slough. Richard Bentley Senior, employed Charles Dickens to edit “Bentley’s Miscellany” in 1837-9. It was in this publication that Dickens published Oliver Twist in instalments.
In 1858 Dickens rented a small cottage in Slough off the High Street on Church Street under the name Charles Tringham. The false name was apparently inspired by the name of his favourite Tobacconist in London. Hardly imaginative Charles!
Mr Dickens publisher was a family business by the name Bentley. They were able to plan and build a grand house in Upton called The Mere, which Richard seniors son, George Bentley and his son Richard Jr moved into in 1887. The house still exists today and is converted into offices and is located next to Herschel Park, recently regenerated to how it would have looked in the 19th century with money from National Lottery. It is located in the heart of Slough and is home to Monkjack deers.
Charles also had another incentive to come to Slough, in his latter years he had a mistress living in the town. It is well documented that dispute his wife’s unwavering support, love, encouragement, and bearing him no less than 10 children (9 lived until adulthood) as well as putting up with his fame, his obsessions with her sisters and constant literary touring and travelling, the author separated from his wife, Catherine Thomson Hogarth (latterly Dickens) for no other reason than he had fallen out of love with her. She was separated from her children (apart from her eldest son Charles Jr who also left the family home to live with his mother) and contact with her children was patchy until her death.
The local woman who was Charles Dickens mistress was Ellen, commonly known as Nelly Ternan, and an actress by trade. The pair remained close until Charles’ death and they rented Elizabeth Cottage in Slough. If the cottage had remained today it would be located on the modern High Street in the town centre.
Unlike today Slough was agricultural and semi rural much of the town remained farmland until the 1920s and the launch of the trading estate. Locally a variety of Famous Cox’s apples were cultivated, the Cox’s Orange Pippin (today they make up about 50% of the UKs dessert apples) and the master of the Slough and Eton Workhouse (which was located on the site of the towns NHS Walk in Centre) cultivated the Pink Dianthus Mrs Sinkins rose, for his wife.
Then as now Slough was connected to London Paddington by the railway. The High Street was made up of smaller specialist shops (and an alarmingly large number of independent Victorian Pharmacies). All in all though it was a far cry from the image created by John Betjeman’s poem, Come Friendly bombs fall on Slough”.
So next time you think of Slough, just remember that one of the most successful authors of the Victorian age had important links with this Berkshire Town.