Yorkshire town uses classic tale to spread festive spirit

Selina Scott is among those promoting Malton's 'literary links to Charles Dickens.
Selina Scott is among those promoting Malton's 'literary links to Charles Dickens.
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Malton is using its connection to Charles Dickens to encourage more visitors to come and celebrate Christmas in the market town. Chris Bond reports.

IT’S two years since Malton bought a rare, signed edition of A Christmas Carol in a nail-biting New York auction.

As some of you might know the North Yorkshire market town has an intriguing link to one of Charles Dickens’s most famous characters and the purchase of the book was part of a campaign, spearheaded by broadcaster Selina Scott, to reclaim him for Malton.

The specially-bound edition was commissioned by Dickens for the wife of his close friend Charles Smithson, a lawyer who lived in Malton, after Smithson died at the age of 39.

Dickens was a regular visitor to Malton and attended his friend’s funeral and there is a long-standing belief that Scrooge’s Counting House was based on Smithson’s office on Chancery Lane in Malton, and that various Dickens characters were based upon residents of the area.

This rare edition, which Dickens dedicated to Mrs Smithson, had disappeared from view until its chance discovery by a book collector in a rubbish bin in the United States, 
which prompted a campaign to bring 
it back home.

The Dickens Gift to Yorkshire charity was set up to manage and conserve the book and over the past two years it has been on a tour across Yorkshire to places like Castle Howard, Grassington and the University of York.

This Christmas the charity is 
giving away 2,500 copies of an 
audio version of A Christmas Carol, narrated by Selina Scott, to schoolchildren in the local area in a bid to promote the book and introduce his work to a new generation of young readers.

Part of the charity’s raison d’être is also to help boost visitor numbers to Malton and, on Sunday, the town and its links to the great storyteller are being featured in a Songs of Praise programme.

A BBC film crew recently filmed outside The Talbot Hotel, where the rare edition of the book is on view over the festive period, and in the Market Place, where TV chef James Martin served cups of Smoking Bishop, a Dickensian mulled wine delicacy.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Miss Scott said this kind of publicity was a huge boost to the town.

“It puts Malton on a national stage and shows what it has to offer.”

She believes the town’s links to Dickens can help boost tourism. “I was talking to a Japanese couple in Malton and when they found out that the inspiration for Scrooge’s Counting House was this tiny little office in Chancery Lane they were enraptured. It’s easy to forget what Dickens means to people.”

The connection between one of Britain’s greatest literary lions and Malton goes beyond his friendship with Smithson. It’s known that he came to see his younger brother Fred who lived in the town for a while and also that he entertained an audience at the theatre (now no longer there) in Saville Street.

Malton already has its own Charles Dickens Society and Clair Challenor-Chadwick, a trustee of Dickens Gift to Yorkshire, wants to see the town’s prized literary legacy continue to be promoted. “This is a fantastic opportunity for Malton and we hope to have a festival here in the town in 2015 and help recreate a real Dickens Christmas, which would have a huge impact on the area and local businesses.”

She says the long term aim is to replicate the success of the Dickensian Festival in Grassington which attracts 30,000 visitors each Christmas and follow in the footsteps of other places. “If you look at what Bram Stoker has done for Whitby and what the Brontës’ have done for Haworth they’ve had a huge impact, and we think we can do something similar in Malton with Dickens.”

For more information about the project go to www.dickensgifttoyorkshire.com