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When Mrs Dickens met the Ternans, she thought the mother was ' pushing' and that nelly and her sisters - all actors - were too familiar.

Just how familiar, poor Catherine Dickens would discover a few weeks later, after Dickens and Nelly Ternan starred in another play together in Manchester - a farce called uncle John, in which a doddering old man falls in love with his much younger ward. It was a cliché situation: the middle-aged man, stuck in a loveless marriage to the wife who had born all his children, has a mid-life crisis and begins to live out a fantasy life with his new 'muse'.

He was genuinely brave, and genuinely helpful, but he was also desperate that the Press should not get hold of the secret and very personal reason of why he was on that train.

Before he went to the assistance of the injured, Dickens had felt a particularly urgent need to help a beautiful young girl off the train and organise for her to be conducted on to London.

His vindictive behaviour towards his wronged wife was obviously fuelled by uncontrolled and probably unexamined feelings of guilt about his passion for Nelly; but this does not make it any less ugly.

When their separation became public knowledge, it caused great pain and scandal to Dickens' friends, and to his many fans.

It was a gold bracelet, which the jeweller had mistakenly delivered to Charles Dickens' house, believing it was meant for his wife.

However, the card attached to it made it clear that it was meant for his new love, Nelly. Dickens furiously protested that his relationship with Nelly was entirely innocent, and that it was perfectly normal in the theatre to send the leading actress such little tokens of esteem.

Ellen Ternan was her name and, in short, she was Dickens' big secret.

He was as famous in Victorian england as a pop star would be today.

For Dickens' fans, Christmas would not be Christmas without readings aloud around the crackling log fire from his sentimental tales of Little Nell or Little Dorrit.

By now, Dickens had begun his famous public readings of his works.

He was enjoying a prodigious success with The Cricket On the Hearth - a highly sentimental celebration of family life and family virtue - when Catherine Dickens received a little parcel from a London Jeweller.

Meeting Nelly precipitated his painful separation from his wife, and the acrimonious termination of that very unhappy marriage.

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