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Written by Jim Godfrey, posted on Saturday, July 7, 2018


Pen Portrait of Alice Liddell and Alice from Wonderland by Jim Godfrey

Alice Liddell, daughter of Henry Liddell (Dean of Christ Church 1855-91), was the child friend of Charles Dodgson (Tutor in Mathematics at Christ Church) and the inspiration for his Alice in Wonderland


Alice Pleasance Liddell was born on 4 May 1852 at Westminster School, London, where her father was Headmaster. At the age of four her family moved to Oxford when her father became Dean of Christ Church. Soon after the move Alice met Charles Lutwidge Dodgson who had just gained a first class degree in mathematics at Christ Church and was, for a year, acting as Assistant College Librarian. His office window overlooked the Deanery Garden and it was from there that he first saw Alice. They soon became friends.

Alice in Wonderland

On Friday 4 July 1862 Alice (then aged 10) and her two sisters, Lorina and Edith, were taken on a boat trip up the River Thames by Dodgson and his friend Robinson Duckworth, a Fellow of Trinity College. The journey began at Folly Bridge and ended at Godstow, on the banks of Port Meadow, where they had a picnic. On that ‘golden afternoon’, Dodgson told the story of Alice in Wonderland for the very first time, extemporising as he went along.

The girls loved it, and Alice asked Dodgson to write it down for her. He began the task the next day, although this earliest draft no longer exists. By November he began work on the story in earnest, and eventually presented her with a manuscript, with his own illustrations, called Alice's Adventures under Ground, in November 1864. The frontispiece bears the inscription: ‘A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer Day’.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the final version with illustrations by John Tenniel, was published in 1865, Dodgson using the pen name Lewis Carroll. Alice was presented with the first printed copy by Dodgson on 4 July, exactly three years to the day after the boat trip. A second ‘Alice’ book, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, followed in 1871, and in 1886 a third book, a facsimile of the original manuscript of Alice's Adventures under Ground, was published. All three books sold extremely well, making Dodgson relatively wealthy. He moved into a large set of rooms in Tom Quad, overlooking St Aldates, and gave generously to many children’s charities.

After Wonderland

Dodgson’s relationship with the Liddell family, however, soured and a sudden break occurred in June 1863. No reasons for this are known (his own diary is missing the relevant pages). Relations were to improve, though Alice was never again a close figure in Dodgson’s life.

Alice married Reginald Hargreaves, who had been up at Christ Church from 1872-78 (the service took place at Westminster Abbey on 15 September 1880). They moved to live in the New Forest, at Cuffnells, Hargreaves’ family estate, where Alice became a noted society hostess and first president of the Emery Down Women’s Institute. She had three sons; Alan Knyveton, Leopold Reginald ‘Rex’, and Caryl Liddell. It is interesting to note that Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, was godfather to her second son. The prince had studied at Christ Church and was a good friend of the Liddell family.

Alice’s two eldest sons were killed in the First World War, the shock from which her husband never fully recovered. When he died in 1926 Alice was forced to sell her copy of Alice’s Adventures under Ground to cover death duties. It ended up in the USA but in 1948 it was given to the British Museum.

In her final years Alice became a somewhat reluctant celebrity when, in 1932, she was invited to America to take part in centenary celebrations of Lewis Carroll’s birth. She received an honorary degree from Columbia University and was the guest of honour at a special tea party! She died at the age of 82, and is buried in the churchyard of St Michael’s Church, Lyndhurst.


At Christ Church, Alice features in a stained glass window in the Great Hall, and her sister Edith appears in the St Catherine Window in the Cathedral. A door in the Cathedral Garden leading to the Deanery Garden is named after her, and her second son, Leopold Reginald Hargreaves, appears on the First World War memorial in the Cathedral Porch.