Like the story of a curious girl named Alice who followed a White Rabbit down a rabbit-hole into the upside down world of Wonderland, I too found myself following in the footsteps of Alice to Oxford, England, the birthplace of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
In 1851, young Charles Lutwidge Dodgeson (aka Lewis Carroll) came to study mathematics at Christ Church in Oxford, where he would later meet his muse, Alice Liddell, the daughter of a Dean at Christ Church. Alice Liddell was the ‘real Alice’ and the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
The story of Alice began on ”œthe golden afternoon” of July 4, 1862, when Carroll, his friend Duckworth and the three Liddell sisters, including Alice, rowed up the River Isis to the town of Godstow. On the boat trip Carroll began threading the story of a bored girl named Alice looking for adventure. The girls loved it and they begged him to write “Alice’s Adventures.” Two years after their boat trip, Carroll showed Alice his hand-written manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Underground and in 1865 the story was published.
Today, Alice fans can walk around Christ Church and Oxford to find a hodge-podge of curiosities that were used in the stories. Starting in Christ Church, visitors can enter The Great Hall where they are welcomed by the friendly face of Custodian Robert Evans, who for the past seven years has watched Harry Potter fans snap pictures of the dining hall they’ve seen in the movies. But few know to “Look up to Alice,” said Evans, as he pointed to the window dedicated to Lewis Carroll with a portrait of Alice Liddell.
The brass firedogs in the Great Hall at Christ Church may have inspired Alice with a long neck:
Evans was nice enough to take me downstairs to the kitchens where not many tourists get to see, and pointed out where two turtle shells hang. He explained how mock turtle soup was the inspiration behind the Mock Turtle character and was on the menu in Wolsey’s great kitchen in Christ Church at the time of Lewis Carroll:
According to alice-in-wonderland.net, the door in the garden at Christ Church shown below was the “little door behind the curtain, in the hallway. The garden [in Oxford] is called the Cathedral Garden, and is in fact ‘Wonderland’. Behind that door lies the Dean’s Garden in which the Liddell sisters often played. The Cathedral Garden was a garden they were not allowed to enter, but which they could see from the window of their nursery.” The site reports that Caroll first saw Alice playing in this garden during his post as Sub-librarian and asked the Dean’s wife for permission to photograph the children.
Every year on July 7th, the city of Oxford celebrates Alice’s Day and this past year marked the 150th anniversary of the Alice in Wonderland story, with a variety of events such as a Mad Tea Party, The Caucus Race, and much more. Nestled on St. Aldates sits a Alice’s Shop with the number ‘83’ stamped on a red door, the very shop where Alice Liddell loved to buy her barley sugar sweets. Travelers from around the world curiously follow the White Rabbit who stands in front of Alice’s Shop staring anxiously at his pocket-watch saying ”œOh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!”
This shop also inspired the Old Sheep Shop in Through the Looking Glass, Carroll writes:
”œShe looked at the Queen, who seemed to have suddenly wrapped herself in wool. Alice rubbed her eyes, and looked again. She couldn’t make out what had happened at all. Was she in a shop? And was that really-was it really a SHEEP that was sitting on the other side of the counter? Rub as she could, she could make nothing more of it: she was in a little dark shop, leaning with her elbows on the counter, and opposite to her was an old Sheep, sitting in an arm-chair knitting, and every now and then leaving off to look at her through a great pair of spectacles.”
Turning the golden door knob, visitors will imagine themselves stepping into Alice’s enchanted upside down world of Wonderland. Every nook and cranny in the shop is a treasure trove of Alice in Wonderland gifts, souvenirs, and memorabilia.
The next time you find yourself in Oxford, look out for the little hints of little Alice in Wonderland scattered throughout the town amidst its rich history.