The Dickens - Nurser connection

William “W.D.” Dickens

Birth September 1844 Braunston, Northamptonshire, England

Death: Sep. 26, 1918 Hamilton Ontario, Canada

Hamilton Spectator - date unknown


In a small cottage on Kensington Avenue north, in the center of Hamilton's Little England, live an Englishman and his wife, personages especially interesting to all admirers of that English novelist who more than all others, has immortalized the Christmas of old England.  A low fence encloses a tiny lawn in front, which is beautiful in summer with a wealth of flowers and creeping vines. At the side and in the rear of the little home is a vegetable garden planted and tended by the master of the house from which are obtained fresh sweet vegetables in plenty for the home table. We sought this home a few weeks ago and enjoyed wholeheartedly the kind hospitality offered by host and hostess. Over "the cup that cheers" we chatted of many things and time flew on winged feet.  In the cottage home on Kensington Avenue resided Mr. and Mrs. William Dickens. Mr. Dickens is a cousin once removed of Charles Dickens, the illustrious novelist. He is the son of George Adams Dickens, who was a first cousin of the great writer. Mr. Dickens recollects the first and only time he saw the novelist. He was but a lad of 8, when his father's cousin called unexpectedly at Braunston, where his family lived. For more than 30 years. George Adams Dickens, who was a provision merchant as well, kept the Admiral Nelson, an old public house in Braunston, Northamptonshire, a port of call for all canal boats plying between London and Birmingham. When Charles Dickens called unexpectedly at the Admiral Nelson, the two men recognized each other as cousins and chatted on subjects of mutual interest. The novelist was, at the time writing for Household Words and was on a journey from London to Birmingham by boat. Ever a lover of children Dickens soon made friends wth the merry, dark-eyed lad who clung close to his father during the stranger-cousins brief visit. He remembers the novelist patting him on the back telling him he must grow up a better man than his father.The captain of the canal boat on which Dickens made his trip - one Joe Evans - was a quaint character, such as would appeal to the novelist - like his Cap'n Cuttle, for instance. One of the favorite sayings of this Capt. Evans - heard as soon as he paid for his pt of ale at the Admiral Nelson, was - "There, that's fair and square".William Dickens, now a resident of Hamilton, the eldest but one a family of 14 children, was born at Braunston, Northampton, in 1843. His mother was Sarah Luck. On Guy Fawkes Day - November 5, 1863 he married Miss Emily Steanes, at the village church in Braunston. Their family numbered 11 children, six of whom are living. A son and daughter reside in Scotland, one son is in the United States and the three daughters - all married - live in Hamilton.  Mr. Dickens was a publican and general dealer in Northamptonshire until some 10 years after their marriage when after losing considerable money owing to depression in times he moved to Scotland, where at Coatbridge (8 miles from Glasgow) the family resided for 34 years or up to the time of sailing for Canada. For sixteen years of this period Mr. Dickens was in the contracting buisness and 18 years was spent as an inspector on the Northern British Railway. Our friend has traveled extensively about England and knows almost every county familiarly. He has traveled in both Ireland and Scotland.  As we chatted with Mr. Dickens we were amozed with the resemblance he bears to pictures of the novelist Charles Dickens. There is the same massive cast of forehead the same broad brow, pronounced features and a general facial expression most striking in its likeness. True, his thick black hair and moustache are iron grey but the eyes, dark brown in color are wonderfully bright. Brown eyes were a native characteristic on the Dickens side we were told.  William Dickens, a unique and interesting personality is the oldest survivor on the male side of the family as connected with the famous Charles Dickens, though he has brothers and nephews, living in England. Of his own family there are twenty-two grandchildren, (four grandsons of the Dickens name) and three great grandchildren. A cousin also a William Dickens, was Mayor of Daventry some years ago, and one of the largest shoe merchants in Northamptonshire. The business is now carried on by sons - William and Charles.Mr. and Mrs. Dickens had been preceded to Canada by several of their daughters. When the youngest daughter decided to sail for this country the father and mother accompanied her, landing in Hamilton on Good Friday, nine years ago last April. Subsequently this daughter became a nurse in training at Hamilton Hospital for the Insane, graduating in due course. She is now the wife of a city fireman and resides in the east end.While Mr. Dickens represents the finest type of the sturdy, thrifty English, middle class, and is a personage of special interest account of his name and kinship to one of Britain’s greatest masters of literature, we were equally charmed by his wife. The memory we carried away of Mrs. Dickens was that of a lovely, gentle lady, rather frail in appearance, but carrying well her years. Attired simply in black, with a fichu of soft lace about her throat , caught with a quaint , old brooch, her lips smiling slightly, a quiet light beaming in her clear, blue eyes and a transparency as of marble touching delicately face and hands, she might have stepped from the pages of such a book as Cranford. She reminded us of a miniature, the picture exquisitely traced on old ivory mellow tint. She embodied all the grace and simplicity of those lovable, gentle Englishwomen so inimitably sketched for us by Mrs. Gaskell in her delightful idyll of village life.We listened with eager ears as Mr. and Mrs. Dickens told us of Christmas in the old land. The season had always been one of great festivity in the familiy, their children gathering home for the celebration of the holiday. What a dinner they had always known at Christmas! What weeks had been spent in making plum puddings and mince pies! And, afterward how merrily flew the hours in song and dance, for the young folk, all the gathering around the hearth, where the blazing yule log lent a warm glow to the scene of glad Christmas joy and youthful happiness. As we listened to these treasured recollections of past Christmases, spent in the old land, our thoughts moved back to the pages of our favorite writer, for it is just such scenes as these which Charles Dickens describes so graphically in his Christmas Carol, and other Christmas stories. When we bade goodbye to our merry host and gentle hostess, and walked westward through the grey December twilight, we smiled happily. No other writer in our language is, for us, so indissolubly linked with Christmas and all the innocent gaiety of that season, as Dickens. Our admiration and love had been kindled anew. There was magic in the name Dickens and Christmas - these were records to conjure with! 

Source:  Find A Grave Memorial

     © Graham Nurser 2012