In search of the real Miss Haversham

Jul 08 | 2022

When Alan Cartwright, Financial Director of EFM Global Logistics, decided to buy a cottage on the Isle of Wight as a holiday let, he had no idea that its original owner was very probably the inspiration for one of Charles Dickens’ most memorable and tragic characters.

Alan CartwrightWhen Alan inspected the deeds for the 19th century house in the village of Bonchurch, he saw it had been built for a Miss Haviland as a stable block for her much larger property Madeira Hall next door.

Miss Haviland it seems had friends in high-places and even entertained fellow Isle of Wight resident Queen Victoria at Madeira Hall, no doubt accommodating her horses and carriage in what is now Alan’s kitchen.

In 1849 Charles Dickens moved to Bonchurch for the summer with his family and met a number of local people who later influenced his writing.  Dickens struck up a friendship with his neighbour Charles Dick and it is believed that Charles provided the name for Betsey Trotwood’s lodger, Mr Dick, in the novel David Copperfield.

Charles Dick had a younger sister, Margaret, who Dickens also befriended during the summer of 1849. Margaret was 22 at the time, but ten years later was jilted by her lover and, it was said, never left the house again. Local folk lore claims she lived in the attic and had food passed to her through the trapdoor.

Those familiar with Dickens’ work will remember a similar story in the novel Great Expectations published in 1860, where Miss Haversham, a rich middle-aged woman was jilted at the altar and lived in her once beautiful home as a recluse, still wearing her ragged wedding dress.

Alan Cartwright believes the real Miss Havisham was Margaret Dick and the well-to-do owner of his house, Miss Haviland, was the inspiration for her portrayal as a wealthy woman living in a once luxurious home.

Over the years a number of women have been put forward as a model for Miss Haversham and no one can be sure who or what sparked Dickens’ creative mind to conceive his heartrending character. However, Alan’s research has convinced scholars and members of the novelist’s family that he has indeed discovered the true identity of the women who inspired the famous story.

Photo: Alan Cartwright.