Alice in Wonderland: Which places inspired Lewis Carroll's classic?

By Duncan Leatherdale
BBC News

image source, British Library
image captionLewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was first published in November 1865

Numerous towns claim some connection to Lewis Carroll's classic children's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which is 150 years old this year. But how legitimate are their links?


image source, Getty Images
image captionCharles Dodgson - aka Lewis Carroll - was a maths lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford, and was a friend of vice-chancellor Henry Liddell, the father of Alice

Oxford is the undisputed home of Wonderland, says David Gibb of the city's Story Museum.

"Wonderland's influence is massive; if you look carefully you can see it everywhere in Oxford," he said.

The story goes that in July, 1862, Charles Dodgson - a maths lecturer at Christ Church - was rowing the three young daughters of his friend Henry Liddell up the River Isis for a picnic.

He made up a story to entertain them, using the name of 10-year-old Alice for the girl who falls down a rabbit hole.

Three years later, after much pestering from Alice, the story was published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland under Dodgson's alias Lewis Carroll.

image source, Other
image captionAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is 150 years old this year

The stuffed dodo which allegedly inspired Carroll to create the character based on the extinct bird can still be seen in the University Museum of Natural History. The Sheep Shop from Wonderland's sequel Through the Looking Glass is still at 83 St Aldate's and sells Alice memorabilia.

"It was the first children's book to star a child who acted like a child. It was silly for the sake of being silly, it was totally unlike the other moral stories for children at the time," said Mr Gibb.

image source, Getty Images
image captionMany of the characters were supposedly inspired by Dodgson's friends and the Dodo represented the stammering author's nickname of Dodo Dodgson


image captionIn Alice In Sunderland, Bryan Talbot claims there are multiple links between Wearside and Lewis Carroll

Wearside and Wonderland are one, according to graphic novelist Bryan Talbot.

Carroll's sisters Mary and Elizabeth lived in the Southwick area of the city after Mary married the Reverend Charles Collingwood.

In his 2007 work Alice in Sunderland, Talbot calls the Oxford boat-trip story a myth and alleges Carroll spent years conjuring up the characters of Wonderland and Looking Glass.

image source, Sunderland City Council
image captionA walrus sculpture has been placed in Sunderland's Mowbray Park in honour of the area's connection to Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell

Alice Liddell's family also had strong connections with north-east England.

In A Town Like Alice's, historian Michael Bute says her ancestors' heraldic shields at Hylton Castle might have inspired the chess moves Carroll had his heroine make.

Carroll regularly visited cousins in Whitburn, in Tyne and Wear. On one beach walk he is said to have met a carpenter and supposedly came across a stuffed walrus in the town.

image source, Getty Images
image captionWere Lewis Carroll's Walrus and Carpenter characters, as depicted by John Tenniel, inspired by his visits to Sunderland?

Carroll's poem Jabberwocky is said to have been completed in Whitburn, which is also home of Sir Hedworth Williamson, a relation of Alice Liddell.

Talbot notes that Williamson introduced white rabbits into the grounds of his home, Whitburn Hall, where Carroll played croquet.

But perhaps the most intriguing connection is the carving of a cat in St Peter's Church in Croft, Darlington, where Carroll's father was rector.

It seems reasonable to assume his eye would have been caught by an unusual carving of a cat which, depending upon the angle it is viewed from, appears to be grinning.

image source, Getty Images
image captionWas this carving possibly seen by a young Carroll in St Peter's Church in Croft, near Darlington? And was it the inspiration for the grinning Cheshire Cat?


image source, Getty Images
image captionAlice Liddell was 10 when Charles Dodgson made up the story of Alice in Wonderland to entertain her and her sisters

Llandudno's place in Alice lore varies from influential to incorrect, according to local historian John Lawson-Reay.

It may be that Carroll was inspired by various parts of the north Wales coastal town, but a 1933-statue which suggests he devised Wonderland during "happy ramblings" with Alice on the beach is wrong, he said.

The Liddells loved Llandudno enough to build a home - Penmorfa - on its west shore in 1862.

Mr Lawson-Reay is convinced a photograph of Penmorfa, with a man and a group of girls, proves Carroll visited - and if he did then features of the town might have inspired him in writing Through the Looking Glass.

"Looking Glass describes someone walking up a zigzag path and looking down on a chessboard," he said.

"The path up the Great Orme (a hill behind the town) is zigzagged, and Llandudno was being built at the time; the roads being laid out would have looked like a chessboard from the hill."

The White Rabbit statue was unveiled in 1933 by the former prime minister David Lloyd George, and the town also has an app-driven Alice trail for visitors to follow.

image source, John Lawson-Reay
image captionJohn Lawson-Reay believes the man in front of Penmorfa is Lewis Carroll - in part because of his light-coloured trousers and the way the figures are posed
image source, Getty Images/John Lawson-Reay
image captionLlandudno historian John Lawson-Reay admits the inscription on the town's white rabbit statue, which says Carroll was inspired to write the story during "happy ramblings" on the shore with Alice, is wrong

Other Lewis Carroll connections

  • Daresbury Carroll was born in the Cheshire village in 1832 and lived there for 11 years

  • Croft-on-Tees He moved to North Yorkshire in 1843, the Cheshire Cat could be based on a sculpture in the village church

  • Ripon Ripon Cathedral's carvings and crypt tunnel allegedly inspired Carroll's characters and the rabbit hole

  • Whitby He holidayed in Whitby six times and his first published poem was in The Whitby Gazette in 1854


image source, Guildford Borough Council
image captionGuildford has several statues of Alice

In 1868 - three years after Wonderland was published - Carroll bought The Chestnuts, a large Georgian house neighbouring Guildford Castle, as a home for his six unmarried sisters.

Carroll would visit the home and is said to have written Through the Looking Glass while staying there in 1871, although other locations also claim to be the inspiration for the book.

It is claimed he wrote Hunting of the Snark while walking on the Hog's Back, a large hill near Guildford.

image source, Guildford Borough Council
image captionLewis Carroll spent his last year at the Chestnuts and his grave is in Guildford

The last year of Carroll's life - 1898 - was spent at Chestnuts and he is buried in The Mount Cemetery in the town.

The Chestnuts and Carroll's grave both feature on guided tours of Guildford.

There are also statues of Alice in the castle grounds and next to the river, while Guildford Museum contains memorabilia including a letter from Carroll to Alice Liddell.


image source, Ancestry Images/Getty Images
image captionAlice Liddell lived at Cuffnells near Lyndhurst after marrying Reginald Hargreaves; she wanted to be called a lady and was the first president of the local Women's Institute

Lyndhurst in Hampshire has been reluctant to make much of its connection to Alice Liddell - until now.

She spent 54 years in the New Forest village after marrying Reginald Hargreaves, owner of the large Cuffnells estate, in 1880.

She described Lyndhurst as "Wonderland come true at last" and tour guides would make a point of passing so visitors could see where she lived.

For a time Carroll's first Wonderland manuscript was on display at the house.

But in her later years she became tired of being the real-life Alice and after her death, in 1934, her family insisted no fuss be made of her Wonderland connections. She would instead be remembered as a community member, mother and wife.

Alice's ashes are buried at St Michaels and All Angels Church. Now the village wants to do more to remember one of its most famous residents.

"Alice did live here and played a very big role in community life," said historian Angela Trend.

"There has been a feeling the family didn't want any fuss, but that has changed now - we want to celebrate her."

image source, Niek Willems
image captionThe family of Alice did not want a fuss made of her connection to Wonderland
image source, Getty Images
image captionLewis Carroll created the characters but John Tenniel's illustrations for the first edition are considered iconic

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