"Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it," wrote Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol.
Now, a campaign is running to honour the real-life MP who is thought to have inspired the author’s famous miser.
John Elwes was an 18th century MP who was so notorious for scrimping and saving, he made Scrooge look extravagant.
As legend has it, despite inheriting the equivalent of £33m from his uncle Elwes would go to bed as soon as it got dark to save money on candles, and ate rotting meat to save money on food.
In 12 years he claimed just 18p in expenses and travelled to work each day on an old horse that he refused to replace. Satirical cartoonists at the time had a field day depicting him as miserable, stick-thin and clinging to a money bag.
Despite this, the politician was a great supporter of the architect Robert Adams and spent a fortune on the redevelopment of London’s West End, funding many buildings that still stand today.
The campaign – launched by Bloomsbury Reader, the publishers of a new Dickens e-book – is hoping to convince English Heritage to remember Elwes with a blue plaque outside his former London home in Great Marlborough Street.
The claim that Elwes at least in part inspired Dickens is fairly compelling. The author referred to the MP – who died 23 years before Dickens was born – in letters while writing A Christmas Carol and mentioned him in his later novel Our Mutual Friend.
Elwes was also thought to have inspired the character of John Scarfe in William Harrison Ainsworth’s novel The Miser's Daughter.
If the campaign is a success Elwes will be in illustrious company – existing blue plaques commemorate several literary figures including Virginia Woolf, H. G. Wells and Dickens himself, who is honoured at the site of his former home Tavistock House in London.
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