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Dickens treasures for sale at the Bleak House no one wants



(Daily Telegraph London, April 4, 1999)

Dickens treasures for sale at the Bleak House no one wants
By Cathy Comerford

THE owners of Bleak House, where Charles Dickens wrote David
Copperfield, are to sell its contents separately after failing to
find a buyer for the property.

Louis Longhi, 66, and his wife Cheryl, 55, who bought the 27-room
property in Broadstairs, Kent, 23 years ago for =A340,000, dropped their
original asking price of =A31 million in a fresh attempt to interest
buyers. But the new price of =A3750,000 excludes the contents - the
study, bedroom and dining room are furnished with Dickens's
possessions - which they plan to sell at a Sotheby's auction of
literary memorabilia in July.

The couple, who have five children, improved the almost derelict
building and continued to run its museum and gift shop. The museum -
which also details the maritime history of the area - was installed by
its previous owner, the newspaper editor Charles Eade. "It is hard
work and we are getting on. It is time to move on," said Mr Longhi.
"If a buyer wants to run it as a museum they can have the contents as
well. It would be perfect as an entertainment centre or a business
conference centre." He said the only offers had come from people
hoping to win the National Lottery.

Bleak House, a misnomer given the house long after Dickens's death in
1870, was not the original mansion on which the book was based: this
is believed to be in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Known in Dickens's day
as Fort House, it was built in the early part of the 18th century and
has views over Viking Bay and the English Channel. The writer used it
as a family holiday home in the summers of 1850 and 1851. Dickens had
enthused in a letter to a friend: "Broadstairs. Fort House until the
end of October!!!" He described it as his "airy nest" where he began
formulating the story for Bleak House, considered by some to be his
best novel.

The coastal town, which he called "our English watering place" is
proud of its Dickens connections, boasting three more addresses where
the writer stayed on his breaks from London. The original Betsey
Trotwood, Copperfield's great-aunt, is said to have lived at a house
in the town now called Dickens House.

The uncertain future for Bleak House has been met with dismay by the
local council which gains much in tourism from its Dickensian
credentials. Gerry Glover, the chairman of Thanet district council
regeneration committee, said: "It would be a great shame if the house
and contents were to be separated. But district councils do not have
the money to do anything about this sort of thing. We will just have
to hope a private buyer comes forward."

A long-standing planning disagreement between Mr Longhi and the
council meant that grants which might have been available from the
European Union to improve the property had not been claimed. Mr Glover
hopes that the availability of this money might entice a buyer who
would keep the house and contents together.

Steve Tomlin of the Canterbury-based estate agents Ward and Partners,
now handling the sale, said separating the house and contents was a
last resort.


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