Charles Dickens’ most enduring story after Oliver Twist is A Christmas Carol.

It’s also one of his shorter stories, without the pile up of clauses and imagery that Dickens, at his most comically loquacious, could rarely resist.

While some wince at this feel-good tale of how the spirit of Christmas, helped by three ghosts, turned a seemingly hard-hearted skinflint into an altruistic merry old man, others have claimed that A Christmas Carol actually changed human behaviour.

The story took Dickens six weeks to write. Published 170 years ago in December 1843, the original Chapman & Hall publication, illustrated by John Leech, went through 24 editions.

Dickens, a skilled actor, is said to have performed extracts from it at 127 public readings until the year of his death in 1870. One of them took place at Bradford’s newly-built St George’s Hall on Wednesday, December 28, 1854. It was Dickens’s second night at St George’s, as he had arrived in town on the 27th.

The Yorkshire Observer, which had advertised the event, said there were some 2,500 people present including Robert Milligan MP, industrialist Henry Ripley, sundry aldermen, vicars and “many gentlemen from the Mechanics’ Institutes of neighbouring towns”.

Special trains had been arranged to take people home to Halifax and Huddersfield and intermediate stations after the two-and-a-half-hour reading’s scheduled 9.30pm finish.

Shortly after 7pm, England’s most famous writer stepped frock-coated on to the stage of the gas-lit, smokey auditorium.

He was 42 and had Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby to his name. His appearance was greeted with loud cheering.

Perhaps raising his hands in acknowledgement and to appeal for quiet, Dickens said: “Allow me, before I commence, to express two wishes. The first is that you will have the kindness, by a great stretch of imagination, to imagine this is a small social party assembled to hear a tale told round the Christmas fire...”

Here Dickens had to pause for more applause and laughter. He resumed: “And secondly, that if you feel disposed, as we go along, to give expression to any emotion, whether grave or gay, you will do so with perfect freedom from constraint, and without the least apprehension of disturbing me.” Loud applause greeted this.

“Nothing can be so delightful to me on such an occasion as the assurance that my hearers accompany me with something of the pleasure and interest I shall have in conducting them.

“And believe me, I cannot desire anything so much as the establishment amongst us, from the very beginning, of a perfectly unfettered, cordial, friendly sentiment.” After yet more loud cheering, Dickens launched into his story.

According to the un-named Yorkshire Observer journalist who described the event, Dickens’ enunciation was “clear, distinct and beautiful throughout, and every and anon his intonation was varied to suit the character of each individual introduced into the story.”

In short he acted out the parts, as he was known to do in his London study when writing his stories. Dickens’ fertile imagination, his supreme gift for words and phrases, made him the Shakespeare, Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney of his day.

Once Dickens had pictured how a character would speak it was there for all time. “Bah, humbug!” said Scrooge about the spirit of Christmas. To this day, irrespective of the time of year, anyone tightfisted or mean-spirited is thought of as a Scrooge.

George Orwell was particularly taken with the passage where Scrooge attributes his fear of supernatural retribution, in reality his bad conscience, to a bit of “undigested cheese” for supper.

It is said that the reception Dickens received on both those nights in Bradford persuaded him to perform more public readings for money.

Although he reportedly declined the £100 fee offered by the Bradford Temperance Educational Institute, he understood that public readings offered him the opportunity to make money, travel about the country and to act out his own creations.

Were the ghost of Charles Dickens to return to St George’s Hall on Saturday, December 28, how might he conclude his spectral reading of A Christmas Carol?

Not perhaps with the affirmative wish that crippled Tiny Tim Crachit bestows at the end of the book - “God bless us, everyone!” Given the state of the nation, with food banks and budget cuts, Dickens’ likelier valediction would surely be: “God help us, everyone.”