Dickens World was a themed attraction located at Chatham Dockyard in Kent, England, based around the life and work of Charles Dickens. After a soft opening in April, Dickens World officially opened to the public on 25 May 2007. It closed on 12 October 2016.
First conceived as far back as the 1970s, Dickens World was designed by Gerry O'Sullivan-Beare, who also created Santa World in Sweden and Andersen World, and cost ₤62 million. Designers RMA Ltd worked closely with Dickens World and the Dickens Fellowship to ensure the production of authentic storylines, characters, atmospheric streets, courtyards and alleyways were true to the period.
Dickens World was based around the life of author Charles Dickens, briefly a resident of Chatham as a child and who, as an adult, lived at Gad's Hill Place in nearby Higham. Many of the locations and characters in his novels are based on buildings, places and people of the Medway Towns. Holcombe Manor was the inspiration for Dingley Dell, the house in Pickwick Papers, and some of Edwin Drood takes place in Rochester Cathedral.
Dickens World is an indoor attraction, centred on a courtyard with facades of buildings related to Dickens, like Warren's Blacking. Unlike many other theme parks, Dickens World was not designed to guide visitors through any particular path, but enables them to structure their own experience.
When Dickens World first opened it included a Great Expectations-themed water ride; a Haunted House; a 4D movie at Peggotty's boathouse; an animatronic show in a mock-up Britannia Theatre; an interactive schoolhouse based on Dotheboys Schoolhouse; a "Fagin's den" play area for children; "The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters", a themed bar and restaurant. The park exited into a gift shop called The Olde Curiosity Shoppe.
The Great Expectations ride took visitors through scenes of Victorian London, and ended with a simulated drop from a sewer into the Thames River. Though featuring Magwitch, the ride did not follow the plot of Great Expectations. Instead, it emphasised the criminal elements of Dickens' novel, featuring a jail filled with criminal characters from several of the writer's books. The ride closed in 2013.
The 4D film in Peggotty's Boathouse tells the story of Dickens, featuring an inflatable Catherine Dickens, a winking Nellie Ternan, and a spray of water in the face during the Dickens's trip to America. The whole is framed with a magic lantern theme. The attraction closed in 2013.
At Dotheboys Schoolhouse visitors experience a Victorian classroom. Touch-screens replace slates, and visitors take a quiz on Dickens' life and works.
The haunted house was first advertised as Ebenezer Scrooge's house, but before the grand opening was renamed the Haunted House of 1859, possibly alluding to Dickens' Christmas story, "A Haunted House," published that year. The house features a Pepper's ghost effect, which is part of the tour.
Administration and restructuring
The original company Dickens World Ltd placed itself in administration when unable to meet an £6 million tax bill, investors losing £32 million. Former director Ed De Lucy revealed that the attraction was losing £500,000 to £1m each year, and only the company's ownership of the adjacent Odeon Theatre and Porter's restaurant had kept it open. Under new ownership, prices had been reduced to £6.50 a head and the boat trip had gone. From 23 March 2013, the venue offered a guide-led walking tour where the visitors met costumed characters, and hoped to host weddings and corporate events.
Dickens World officially closed in October 2016 when the restructuring and refinancing company pulled out of negotiations. The staff were informed by text messages and email that the company had ceased to operate.
Use by the media
The courtyard scene in Dickens World was used for the opening titles for Oliver and Nancy searching TV show I'd Do Anything when it started on 15 March 2008.
- Addley, Esther (19 April 2007). "High times aboard the sewer boat ride to the slums". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
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- Huntley, Dana (Sep 2008). "Visiting in Dickens World" (29.4).
- Gould, Marty and Rebecca N. Mitchell (2010). "Neo-Victorian Studies 3:2 (2010) pp. 145-171 Understanding the Literary Theme Park: Dickens World as Adaptation". Neo-Victorian Studies. 3 (2): 145.
- Membery, York (23 February 2008). "Great expectations for newly opened Dickens World". Toronto Star. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
- Hughes, Kathryn (2010). "Dickens World and Dickens's World". Journal of Victorian Culture. 15 (3): 388.
- "Frequently Asked Questions". Dickens World. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
- Price, Chris (10 October 2013). "Hard Times for Dickens World investors after Dickens World Ltd". Kent Online. Kent Messenger Group. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
- Official Dickens World website (archived 30 September 2014)