Monday, 6 October 2014

The Bromley Mister Pickwick

Charles Dickens published the 20 monthly instalments of his first novel between April 1836 and November 1837entitled The Pickwick Papers or the Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club,Containing a Faithful Record of the Perambulations,Perils,Travels,Adventures and Sporting Transactions of the Corresponding Members. Since then there has been a well documented tradition in Bromley that the original Mister Pickwick was based upon Robert Booth Rawes who with other mebers of his family lead a boarding school for boys.
The Pickwick Papers contains  within the Travels and Perambulations" an accurate description of coaching inns. Bromley had both stage coaching inns and several generations of the Weller family stage-coachmen. One wonders how familiar the 24 year old Charles Dickens may have been with Bromley and whether he had encountered the Wellers?
Rawes Academy was founded as a boarding school for boys as early as 1730 and was situated in Bromley High Street. There is no extant record of the founder however it is believed the Rawes family became involved in the 1780's. The Rates Books for  1787/8 assess messrs Booth and Rawes in the sum of £100 and various record sources identify Richard Rawes as churchwarden in 1789 so there is documentary evidence of his involvement in the school in the 1780's.
Other members of the family joined the school so that by the time of his retirement Richard had been succeeded by Robert Booth Rawes and William and Joseph Rawes and the Rawes Academy was a well established Bromley institution. Richard Rawes died aged 72 and his burial register entry in 1814 describes him as a Gentleman.
In the surviving 1801 Census of Bromley Kent Online Parish Clerks transcript  Richard Rawes Academy contained 124 males and 9 females and it is reasonable to conclude that over 100 boys were boarded. Bromley was a pleasant country town with good coach connections and had attracted reputable surgeons to the town and had attracted Jane Austen to describe the Bell Inn favourably in Pride and Prejudice.
Medical care for the Rawes Academy is documented in the dispensing and accounts ledger of Doctor Thomas Ilott whose surgery was in the High Street facing the Bell Inn.Doctor Ilott between 1809 and 1811 records treatment of many named pupils and occasionally staff members.The Rawes account is headed Messrs Rawes's Academy in the Folio C ledger deposited at Bromley Archive.
Whilst we may never know of Dickens familiarity with Bromley,the Wellers or Robert Booth Rawes there are many references in local history of the town to the tradition that the author drew upon Robert Booth Rawes in his first novel for Pickwick.