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Peter Park - Eating out with Charles Dickens

My friend Peter Park is passionate about photography and has worked on many projects over the years. Whilst he was chairman of the Basildon camera club he hosted a presentation about 'old London town' during which his friend Ron made a memorable entrance… he used coconut shells to make a sound similar to horses hooves on cobbled streets, Peter remembers it as being a very entertaining evening!

Ron had recently retired and during the tea break Peter asked him how he spent his time now. Ron told Peter that he and another recently retired friend called Reg took groups of people on walking tours around London, their most popular one being a Charles Dickens themed walk. He then went on to say that they were writing a book about Charles Dickens and the hundred pubs, inns and restaurants that were still trading that Dickens had visited during his lifetime. Ron referred to the book as "a sort of history come-pub guide", but they were unsure how to get all of their notes and images onto a computer. Peter said he would love to help as he found the project interesting and three weeks later Ron and Reg called him to arrange a meeting to discuss the book.

For the next eighteen months Peter’s spare time was taken up preparing the layout for the book so it would be ready for printing. It was 2001 and at that time Peter had a couple of years’ experience producing audio-video presentations but this was the first time he had worked on a project like this.

The team had regular meetings, usually in Peter’s study, huddled around the computer, checking that everything was millimetre perfect and that the overall presentation looked just as they wanted. Peter recalls them having hours of fun, discussing and re-arranging things until they were happy with the layout of each page. Then Peter’s job was to take approximately one hundred brown envelopes full to the brim with photos and notes, scanning everything and working his magic on the computer to turn the contents of the envelopes into a book they could all be proud of. Peter also edited a lot of photos in Photoshop as many were too dark and needed a little tweaking here and there, he remembers removing some scaffolding from the outside of one pub and erasing several cars and people from the photos.

Whilst working on the book Peter was introduced to a friend of Ron and Reg, Cedric Charles Dickens, who was a great grandson of Charles Dickens. Cedric was enthusiastic about the book, encouraging the team to do the book and he offered to help where he could.

The team had several meetings with Cedric, some were at his London office and others at the George & Vulture where Charles Dickens had hosted some of his meetings in years gone by. Peter does not drink alcohol and Cedric found it difficult to dine with someone drinking coke, so Peter ordered an orange juice instead! During one meal Cedric asked Peter how many Dickens books he had read, after a short pause Peter said, “I have written one more than I’ve read!” and Cedric burst out laughing and kept smiling at Peter throughout their meeting!

Peter fondly remembers Cedric as a very nice man. Whenever Cedric went on holiday he always sent Peter a post card with notes telling stories of his whereabouts and sending his best wishes.

During one of their team meetings at Cedric’s house, he disappeared upstairs and returned with a framed receipt, which had been given to Charles Dickens when he paid for supper for thirty four friends dining at the George & Vulture, the meal cost Dickens £11 and 5 shillings including wine. A copy of this receipt is included in their book, “Eating out with Charles Dickens” which was published in 2003 (picture of receipt below).

The book cover below.

The book was printed by Lavenham Press and the team had several meetings there, dining at the Swan at Lavenham afterwards. The team went to the printers on the day that the book was printed as they wanted to follow the book through the printing process, which Peter found very interesting. Cedric arrived by train and Peter collected him from the station to take him to the printers, they had a book launch and signing at the factory and left with several copies of the book. Peter understandably felt very proud that he had been there with Cedric, Ron and Reg, he looks back on this day with great pride.

Book signing at Lavenham Press below - from left to right at the back, Peter, Ron and Reg, with Cedric sitting at the front.

The four team members formed a partnership in order to sell the book and Peter is very proud to be able to say that the great grandson of Charles Dickens has been his business partner.

A book launch took place at the Dickens Museum in Doughty Street, London and Cedric held a book signing and many of their friends came to collect books, which is another special day that Peter will remember for the rest of his life.

Book signing at the Dickens Museum below - Reg at the back, front row from L-R Ron, Cedric and Peter.

Peter now lives in Devon, but at that time he owned a plastics company in Basildon, a local newspaper published a center spread article about Peter, entitled ‘From Plastics to Publishing’!

Peter’s parents received a signed copy of the book from Cedric and were very proud of their son’s work. Peter, Ron and Reg each received a lovely surprise from Cedric, a signed leather bound copy of the book, which was a very kind and thoughtful gesture.

The team sold approximately 2,000 copies of the book to customers from all over the world. Whilst attending a UK based book signing a lady pulled a book from her bag and asked the team to sign it for her….the book had been posted to Australia and she had flown to the UK to ask for it to be signed! Peter remembers another customer, a chap who had a dog-eared copy of the book, he told them that he had visited most of the pubs featured in the book and uses it to plan his holidays!

Peter is now retired and is still passionate about photography. His hobby is to work on themed projects and produce a book recording his work, some of the subjects that spring to mind are castles of the UK and all of the bridges than span the length of the river Thames (I am proud to say that I assisted Peter researching information about the bridges and I've done a previous blog post about this). Over the years Peter has worked on many interesting projects but the Dickens book is one that holds a special place in his heart.

Below - Cedric Charles Dickens at the Red Lion, Salisbury sitting in the same seat that his great grandfather Charles Dickens once sat in.

Below - Reg sitting in Charles Dickens chair room at the George & Vulture where many of their team meetings were held.

Below - George & Vulture pages from their book.

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