It’s that most wonderful time of the year again! For many of us, Christmas means a time of joy and happiness, all entwined in tradition. The tree goes up with twinkling lights, sparkly baubles and tinsel, gifts are bought and lovingly wrapped, and the cupboards are stocked up with treats galore! One other tradition that many families love to do is curl up on the sofa with a cup of mulled wine or maybe a hot chocolate and watch A Christmas Carol. There are of course people who don’t get into the spirit of things at this time of year and they are often called ‘Humbugs’, which is Scrooge’s famous line when referring to Christmas.
Probably the most famous Christmas story after the Nativity, Scrooge started life as a novel written by Charles Dickens, and has since been made time and time again into films. Everyone has their favourite Scrooge film that simply cannot be beaten by any other incarnation, but did you know that Yorkshire’s own Malton played a role in the story? In our December feature, read about Dickens’ link to Malton, the novel A Christmas Carol, and the resulting films that have captured the hearts of generations and become an integral part of our Christmas celebrations.
Charles Dickens in Malton
Charles Dickens visited Malton on several occasions over the years. Malton based solicitor Charles Smithson met Dickens whilst in London for his legal training and the pair became life-long friends. Dickens’ many visits to his friend in the town meant he developed a love of the area and this resonates through several of his novels. Smithson’s home in the town, Easthorpe Hall (sadly no longer standing) captivated Dickens when he stayed there for three weeks in July 1843. He wrote “For I am quite serious in saying that this is the most remarkable place of its size in England, and immeasurably the most beautiful.” It was also reported at the time that he and his wife had visited Old Malton Abbey and other remarkable places in the area in the Yorkshire Gazette.
Some of the characters featured in Dickens’ novels are based on the people of Malton whom he met through Smithson. John Brodie in Nicholas Nickleby is based on a Barnard Castle attorney named Barnes, local Mrs Jump is said to be the model for Mrs MacStinger in Dombey and Son, and Sairey Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewit (part of which was written in Yorkshire) was apparently inspired by Smithson’s housekeeper. Charles Smithson himself doesn’t escape scrutiny and features as Mr Spenlow in David Copperfield. There are parallels between the character and the real man, including the failure to leave a will. Smithson died aged just 39 and Dickens helped his wife to search for the will which proved to be fruitless.
But what of the link with the infamous Scrooge? It is widely believed that Mr Scrooge’s counting house in the book was based on Smithson’s Chancery Lane offices, and the church bells which feature so resonantly are those of St Leonard’s, Church Hill.
A Christmas Carol – The Novella
First published on the 19th December 1843, A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. The bitter old miser is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come, to show him the path his life will take if he continues his mean ways. The book was an instant success, receiving great critical acclaim. It was written at a time when Christmas was changing in Britain – Christmas Trees and cards were a new phenomenon! The book took Dickens only six weeks to write, and priced at five shillings each the first run of 6000 copies had sold out by Christmas Eve. Continuing to sell well into the New Year, by May 1844 the seventh edition had sold out.
The story cleverly highlights the plight of the poor children of this time, in fact Dickens had planned on printing a pamphlet about the issue which he felt strongly about, but instead wrote A Christmas Carol which surely had a far greater impact. He addresses the situation of the working poor through Scrooge’s rude dismissal of two gentlemen seeking donations, and his begrudging ‘gift’ of allowing his clerk Bob Cratchit to take off Christmas Day with pay saying it is “a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every 25th of December!” Also tugging at the reader’s heartstrings is Tiny Tim, Cratchit’s son who is seriously ill but simply joyous and happy for the love of his family and grateful for the meagre things he does have. Of course, the story ends with Tiny Tim’s famous words “God bless us, everyone!”
Film Adaptations
The earliest surviving screen adaptation of the book is a short British film made in 1901 and titled Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost. There have been many more made over the years including one of the most popular – 1951’s Scrooge. Alastair Sim portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge, and initially the film received mixed reviews in the US, while becoming one of the most popular films in Britain. Sim’s characterisation received particular praise and the movie did receive a favourable review in The New York Times. The film was colourised and re-released in 1989.
Some of the actors to feature in A Christmas Carol over the years include Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, Nicolas Cage and Jim Carrey. The famous Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog starred in The Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992. The latest adaptation was in 2009 from Walt Disney Pictures. This performance capture film starred Jim Carrey as Scrooge and proved popular with the younger generation.
There have also been television adaptations including plenty of children’s animated versions such as Brer Rabbit, Flintstones, Sesame Street, The Smurfs and even Thomas & Friends!
Theatres both in the UK and across the Atlantic have staged live performances of the story. The 1980’s saw Patrick Stewart perform a one-man reading/acting of the story first in London then Broadway. He used only a table, chair, stool, lectern and book to enact the entire story.
Legacy of A Christmas Carol
As we know, one major legacy of the story is families snuggling up around their TV screen to watch their favourite adaptation every Christmas. But what else?
In Malton the Chancery Lane building where Smithson had his law practice, and which provided inspiration for Scrooge’s counting house is now the Counting House Museum. Maintained and run by volunteers from the Charles Dickens (Malton) Society, it is home to paintings of the infamous miser, cartoon sketches of well – known Dickens’ characters, displays and information about the author and life in Victorian times. Open on Saturdays from May to October, it is well worth a visit. Entry is free but contributions are welcomed. The museum can also be opened for private visits by groups or schools by prior arrangement.
In 2012, a rare book came up for auction in the USA. A copy of A Christmas Carol, inscribed from Charles Dickens to Mrs Smithson dated 18th April 1844. Clair Chadwick MD of marketing and fundraising agency Cause UK was working on another project with Broadcaster Selina Scott, who lives in Malton when the book was mentioned. The two women along with Stephen Joll, one of the founders of Malton’s Charles Dickens Society decided to rally and try to acquire the book for Malton. Just four weeks before the auction funds were raised by the residents of the town, and organisations including the Hon Simon Howard, Chairman of the Castle Howard Estate. They managed to raise $32,000 but were aware it may not be enough. The book did not reach reserve at auction so was not sold. Talks then ensued with the private seller and Malton were able to purchase the book for $35,000! It is now proudly on display in the Talbot Hotel – a building Dickens would have been immensely familiar with!
Malton is also organising its first ever Dickensian Christmas Festival this year! The charity Dickens Gift to Yorkshire is hosting the inaugural festival which takes place over two weekends – the 12-13th and 18-19th December. Various events are taking place over the weekends at The Counting House, The Milton Rooms, The Talbot Hotel and the Cookery School including lectures from world leading expert on Dickens Professor Michael Slater, and Lucinda Hawksley who is the great, great, great granddaughter of Dickens! Other attractions include carol singing, Dickensian themed walks, horse and carriage rides and food stalls. Headlining the festival is BAFTA winning actress Miriam Margoyles performing her one-woman show Dickens’ Women which was nominated for an Olivier award. Miriam is known for her roles in many films including the Harry Potter movies. She said “I am delighted to support this new Yorkshire Festival. I fell in love with Dickens at school and would like to appeal to children, young people and adults alike to come and enjoy the spirit of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Dickens is the best. Once you’re hooked by his words, his books will enrich you over a lifetime. It’s going to be enormous fun.”
Whether you intend to watch your favourite version of Scrooge this year or not, all of us at the Yorkshire Reporter do not think Christmas is ‘Humbug’ and would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas – ‘God bless us, everyone!’
For more information on the Charles Dickens (Malton) Society and the Counting House Museum visit www.dickenssocietymalton.co.uk
For more information on the Malton Dickensian Festival visit www.dickensgifttoyorkshire.com

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