Cinema-goers will be in for a treat this week as Gloucester Guildhall will be showing The Man Who Invented Christmas, a film focusing on Charles Dickens and his writing of ‘A Christmas Carol’. The great Victorian author was no stranger to Gloucester and it was a real-life inhabitant of the city who inspired one of his most famous and enduring characters, Ebenezer Scrooge.
James ‘Jemmy’ Wood, often referred to as the Gloucester Miser, was a tight-fisted man despite inheriting one of the oldest private banks in Britain from his grandfather, the site of which, on Westgate Street, now bears a commemorative plaque. He also owned an undertaking business and had extensive land in and around Gloucester. Wood had a vast personal fortune and was known as ‘the richest commoner in His Majesty’s dominions’. Many tales circulated about his meanness, but it is not known how many are true. For instance, it was said that he visited Gloucester Docks to fill his pockets with small pieces of coal that fell off the boats being unloaded there, and wore the same clothes for years on end. He was said to have walked everywhere rather than pay the cost of a carriage. It is clear to see where Dickens found his inspiration.
Wood also helped spark Dickens’ creativity posthumously for another novel, Bleak House. The settlement of his estate was disputed by the City of Gloucester and the other beneficiaries and this long drawn out case was reportedly the basis for the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce case in the novel. He is buried in St Mary de Crypt Church on Southgate Street.
There are many reminders of Gloucester’s Victorian history with Charles Dickens describing it as a “wonderful and misleading city” during one of his reading tours. He wrote of Gloucester Docks: “You will see, suddenly appearing, as if in a dream, long ranges of warehouses with cranes attached, endless intricacies of dock, miles of tramroad, wildernesses of timber in stacks, and huge, three-masted ships, wedged into little canals, floating with no apparent means of propulsion, and without a sail to bless themselves with.” This is still true to this day as the historic Docks plays host to the annual Gloucester Quays Victorian Christmas Market – a palpable nod to its heritage.
Councillor Paul James, Leader of Gloucester City Council and Chairman of Marketing Gloucester, said: “Gloucester is very proud of its heritage and how it has inspired many of Britain’s greatest literary heroes, especially Charles Dickens. The Man Who Invented Christmas is an excellent chance to find out more about arguably his most famous work.
The writing of ‘A Christmas Carol’ was incredibly important for Dickens’ career and the story behind it is fascinating. The Man Who Invented Christmas recounts this story in an entertaining and educational fashion. The warm family drama will have regular showings from the 15 December to the 22 December. You can find out more information from Gloucester Guildhall’s website (www.gloucesterguildhall.co.uk).