THE inaugural Dickensian Festival will be launched in Malton this winter, when the market town will play host to carol singing, Charles Dickens-themed walks, horse and carriage rides, food stalls, street theatre and lectures.

Miriam Margolyes, Selina Scott, Professor Michael Slater and Lucinda Hawksley will be among those taking part in a festival that will run on December 12, 13, 18 and 19 at the Counting House, the Milton Rooms, the Talbot Hotel and the Cookery School.

Headlining the event will be BAFTA-winning actress Miriam Margolyes, whose one-woman show, Dickens’ Women, was nominated for an Olivier award. The veteran star of stage and screen has appeared in Martin Scorsese’s The Age Of Innocence, Ladies In Lavender and as Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films. In York, she played Madame Ranyevskaya in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard in October 1999.

“I'm delighted to support this new Yorkshire Festival," says 74-year-old Miriam. "I fell in love with Dickens at school and would like to appeal to children, young people and adults alike to come and enjoy the spirit of A Christmas Carol. Dickens is the best. Once you’re hooked by his words, his books will enrich you over a lifetime. It’s going to be enormous fun.”

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Lucinda Hawksley, Charles Dickens's great, great, great granddaughter. Picture: John Quintero Photography

The Dickensian Festival is being organised by Clair Challenor-Chadwick, managing director of Cause UK, who established the Dickens Gift to Yorkshire charity with Ampleforth broadcaster Selina Scott and others. "The festival is part of our overall work to reclaim Yorkshire’s literary heritage and celebrate the remarkable connection Dickens had to Malton,” says Clair.

In particular, A Christmas Carol, his most famous book of all, has had a long association with the town. In 2012, Selina Scott spearheaded a campaign to return a rare 1844 signed edition of A Christmas Carol to Malton. The specially bound edition was commissioned by Dickens for the widow of his great friend, lawyer Charles Smithson, and it is said Dickens was inspired to base Scrooge’s famous Counting House on Smithson’s Counting House in Malton, now a Dickensian museum and visitor attraction.

The book will be on view in the town throughout the festival. “The message of the book around caring for those less fortunate at Christmas is a beautiful one to spread during the festive season," says Clair. "We hope this festival is the first of many to help attract tourists from far and wide to help bolster the Ryedale economy during the winter. Malton is a truly magical setting for the old-fashioned romance of Christmas.”

Dickens expert Professor Michael Slater, who published an acclaimed biography of the novelist in 2009, will give a Christmas lecture on A Christmas Carol on December 18 from 5pm at The Milton Rooms. Selina Scott will then introduce Miriam Margolyes to the stage to deliver her monologue performance.

Dickens' great, great, great granddaughter, Lucinda Hawksley, will give a talk on her ancestor at the Talbot Hotel on December 19 from 2pm. An author in her own right, Lucinda has written biographies of the artists Lizzie Siddal, Princess Louise and Katey Dickens Perugini and lectures regularly at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Organisers are appealing to shop keepers and business owners to join in the spirit of A Christmas Carol by dressing their windows and putting on their own Dickensian events during the festival.

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