AS festive gifts go it couldn’t be more appropriate – a special bound edition of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, dating from 1844 and inscribed by the author himself.
For the North Yorkshire market town of Malton the gift is doubly apt – as it is regarded as the writer’s model for the setting of his evergreen tale of Yuletide redemption.
Now, with the help of broadcaster Selina Scott, it has come home to spearhead local efforts to promote the town, its Dickens links and make the area synonymous with Christmas celebrations.
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The specially-bound copy was commissioned by Dickens for the wife of his great friend, lawyer Charles Smithson, after his untimely death at the age of 39.
The author was a regular visitor to the town and used to stay with Smithson and his wife Elizabeth at their home, Easthorpe Lodge.
There is a long-standing tradition that the office of Scrooge was based on Smithson's office on Chancery Lane – now a volunteer-run museum - and that various Dickens characters were based upon residents of the area.
The book had been in the hands of an American collector for many years and when it came up for auction in New York a local campaign was launched to secure it for the town.
Led by local business man Stephen Joll and Clair Challenor-Chadwick, of specialist fundraising and marketing company, Cause UK, the £27,280 needed was raised in just four weeks.
Many organisations and individuals backed Miss Scott’s campaign including Simon Howard, chairman of Castle Howard Estate, Flamingo Land, the Malton Museums Trust, and the Malton Dickens Society.
“When this rare and remarkable book came up for auction in New York, we had to act,” said Miss Scott, who lives nearby.
“ The whole town has come together, raiding savings and piggy banks to raise enough funds. We’re proud to have bought the ghost of Dickens’s Christmas back.”
She added: “For over a hundred years it has been widely acknowledged that Dickens drew his characters like Scrooge from those he met in the town.”
First published in 1843, A Christmas Carol has never been out of print. It has been filmed at least ten times, translated into 60 languages and has even inspired stage shows, a musical and an opera.
Malton’s copy will now go on show at Castle Howard until December 16 and will then go on show at the Talbot Hotel in Malton before going to York University’s library, again on public display, in the New Year before going on tour around Yorkshire.
To find out more visit dickensgifttoyorkshire.com