Hard times as Malton museum that inspired Dickens faces closure

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THE North Yorkshire building which inspired Scrooge’s counting office in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is facing closure - ironically because money is tight.

The novelist wrote the story a few months after spending a holiday with lawyer Charles Smithson and his family in Malton. Mr. Smithson’s office in the town was the basis for Scrooge’s spartan base and six years ago it became the Dickens-based Counting House Museum.

Charles Dickens attended Doncaster Races in the mid 19th century

Charles Dickens attended Doncaster Races in the mid 19th century

But the musuem is short of volunteers - and that could lead to reduced opening hours, a drop in donations and possible closure.

Brian Oxberry, chairman of the Charles Dickens (Malton) Society, said: “All of our time - developing, maintaining and manning the museum - is given on a voluntary basis.

“The most frequent task is manning the Counting House, welcoming visitors and showing them around.

“We are a small group, most of us with family and other commitments placing demands on our time.

“We are faced with the awful prospect of not being able to open the museum every Saturday.

“This will reduce the level of donations collected from visitors, which in turn will leave us unable to pay the rent and forced to close this valuable asset to the town.”

He added: “Manning the Counting House requires no great skills, or expert knowledge of Dickens and his books.

“All you need to do is welcome the visitors and show them the content of the two rooms - the displays are all self-explanatory. Its great fun meeting people from so many different places.”

Brian Oxberry and Linda McCarthy in period costume outside The Counting House, Malton. Picture by Gerard Binks.

Brian Oxberry and Linda McCarthy in period costume outside The Counting House, Malton. Picture by Gerard Binks.

The museum houses information and displays about Dickens and his visits to Smithson, and Malton.

Dickens visited the town several times to see Smithson and his wife, who lived at Easthorpe Hall, an 18th century mansion.

The bells that ring out on Christmas Day in the novel were those of Malton’s St Leonard’s Church.

Smithson himself was apparently the inspiration for the Mr Spenlow character in the David Copperfield novel.

At the moment the museum is open 10am to 1pm on Saturdays between April and September.