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Dickens’ drinking tastes revealed by handwritten wine cellar inventory

Charles Dickens’ drinking habits are revealed in a handwritten inventory of his wine cellar

This is Charles Dickens’ wine cellar, a place which acccording to a recent find was a well stocked affair boasting some of the finest wines and liqueurs of the day.

Drinks were held last month in honour of the arrival at the Dickens Museum in London of his handwritten 1865 inventory revealing the contents of his cellar at Gad’s Hill Place in Kent, where he lived from 1856 until his death in 1870.

The list, on loan from a private collector, is on display in the Drawing Room at the Museum where Dickens completed The Pickwick Papers and wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

Among the drinks that could be found in Dickens’s cellar from 1865 were one 50 gallon cask of ale, one 18 gallon cask of gin, a nine gallon cask of brandy and a nine gallon cask of rum. The cellar also included dozens of bottles of champagne, Chablis, Sauterne, Metternich hock, claret, L’eau d’or and Kirsch.

Dickens was evidently a man who enjoyed a snifter or two and his novels are full of references and descriptions of drink and its effects, including this passage from Martin Chuzzlewit:

“[Mr Tapley] produced a very large tumbler, piled to the brim with little blocks of clear transparent ice, through which one or two thin slices of lemon, and a golden liquid of delicious appearance, appeared from the still depths below, to the loving eye of the spectator.”

Punches and cocktails were served up at the museum which is at his former London home on Doughty Street, where he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

The Charles Dickens Museum teamed up with the London Gin Club to create some of the wonderful inventions found in Dickens’s stories and in the surviving recipes of his family, including Champagne Cup, Dog’s Nose, Gin Punch and Sherry Cobbler.

The hot mulled drinks Smoking Bishop (port, red wine, fruit, sugar and spices) and Negus (port, hot water, sugar and spices) crop up in A Christmas Carol. Dog’s Nose (porter, gin, sugar and spice) makes an appearance in The Pickwick Papers and Martin Chuzzlewit enjoys a Sherry Cobbler cocktail.

According to Cindy Sughrue, Director of the Charles Dickens Museum, “drinks and drinking run throughout Dickens’s works and are treated with both well-oiled warmth and good humour and also a journalist’s examination of the harm they were doing to London’s poor.”

When Charles Dickens moved into 48 Doughty Street he was still using his pen-name Boz. By the time he left he was an international superstar, having written The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. 

Most of the fireplaces, doors and fittings are as they were when he lived there and the rooms are still filled with the furniture he bought. The Museum also holds the world’s most comprehensive collection of Dickens-related material. As visitors make their way through the house, they can see the raised reading desk he designed and from which he gave countless public readings; and pore over original manuscripts of his great works, letters, personal items and photographs.

Now thanks to this recent arrival they can raise a Dickensian glass to the author as well.

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Charles Dickens Museum

London, Greater London

Number 48 Doughty Street is the only remaining London home of eminent Victorian author Charles Dickens. Dickens described the terraced Georgian dwelling as 'my house in town' and resided here from 1837 until 1839 with his wife and young family. Two of his daughters were born here, his sister-in-law Mary…

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