Drive to put Charles Dickens' work out on show in Sherborne
A 19TH-CENTURY room divider decorated by Charles Dickens could soon be displayed in Sherborne where it was created more than 150 years ago – if fundraisers meet their target.
The screen, which is covered in hundreds of images of well-known Victorian personalities, has been stored in the Dorset History Centre, in Dorchester, for the past 10 years.
It was donated to the Friends of Sherborne House by the family of the Victorian actor William Macready who once lived in Sherborne House.
Careful restoration work began last year and preliminary work has now been completed.
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Now the friends are raising funds to reinstate the piece to its former glory. So far they have raised £7,000 towards their target of at least £20,000 after they launched an appeal in May.
Descendants of Dickens and Macready attended the launch including author Lucinda Hawksley, great-great-great granddaughter of the novelist.
John Sutherland-Smith, chairman of the Friends of Sherborne House, said: "The launch went really well.
"It was very exciting to see the two families united by rather a strange object which they found so interesting."
Mr Sutherland-Smith said the group had already raised a considerable amount.
He said: "We have had a little gap in fundraising over the summer due to the Olympics and other events, but now we have a programme for the autumn and winter months which we will publish soon.
"We are having a meeting shortly to finalise our ideas but we hope to include an exhibition for people to visit."
It is believed William Macready created the montage of famous faces with his novelist friend Dickens in 1850 to educate his children about the theatre and Victorian society.
Made of four leaves, the wooden frame and cotton canvas features images of the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon, Admiral Nelson, and William Hogarth, as well as scenes from Shakespeare's plays.
Charles Dickens is said to have designed the pictures using cut-outs from magazines.
Mr Sutherland-Smith said each picture needed to be painstakingly removed during restoration work.
He said: "While it was in storage, work and interest on it went on the back burner.
"We didn't have much chance to think about it, but since the house has been sold we think it's a duty to restore it as it is a piece of national interest.
"We are assuming the actual structure was made by a Sherborne craftsman. Then Macready, who was extremely into and had his own theories on education, may well have stuck these pictures on the screen as part of an educational project. The family are quite certain that Dickens helped him."
For more information visit www.sherbornehouse.org.uk/friends or call Mr Sutherland-Smith on 01935 815135.