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Alice Day

Written by Emily Essex, posted on Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Behind the scenes header image


Alice door viewed from Deanery gardenThis is the 'Alice door': a small door connecting the Deanery garden to the Cathedral garden.

It can be seen from the North door of the Cathedral and, more importantly, it was a feature to be studied from the Deanery side of the wall. A young Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean and inspiration for the famous story, would have known that door well.

On the other side of it lies the beautiful Cathedral garden which was then part of the property of one of the Cathedral canons.

Only the Dean was allowed to cross that garden, and so a young Alice would have seen her father disappearing through this door into a magnificent garden of green grass and beautiful flowers, but she was not allowed to follow.

Sound familiar? Perhaps the door in Carroll's story was inspired by this small door between the gardens.

Christ Church has many connections to Alice and her story, and as 'Alice day 2018' approaches, we wanted to celebrate some of them!

Last week, as part of Behind the Scenes at the Cathedral, we heard from Jim Godfrey, Cathedral Verger who happens to be one of the greatest experts at Christ Church on Alice in Wonderland. Below is a "director's cut" of our interview, featuring the story of how Alice in Wonderland came to be.

In our interview, Jim told me that on that first day at work he was taken out to the Cathedral Gardens to see something 'unique': a horse chestnut tree in the Dean's garden about which he was proudly informed: “that is the original Cheshire cat’s tree”. It turned out that Jim was brought up in the North Yorkshire village of Croft-on-Tees, the same village that Charles Dodson (i.e. Lewis Carroll) had lived, and he claimed that he knew the tree in the Deanery garden wasn't the 'real tree' because a different tree  - under which Lewis Carroll had sat to write - existed in Croft-on-Tees.

I asked Jim: So which one is actually the real tree?

Jim: There are about 7 or 8 trees that people claim as the ‘real’ Cheshire cat’s tree. It’s difficult to know for certain which of them live up to that claim. As for the tree at Christ Church, the claim revolves around this being the place where Charles Dodgson met Alice Liddell, the Dean’s daughter, who inspired the famous story.

In 1852 Alice Liddell was born in London, and when she was 3 years old her father was made Dean of Christ Church: one of the youngest ever.

Charles Dodgson had been born in 1832, and had come to Christ Church in 1850, first to gain a double first in mathematics, then to spend a year as Assistant Librarian, then going on to become a lecturer in mathematics. Whilst he was Assistant Librarian his office overlooked the deanery garden and Dodgson saw the tree and the Dean with his young children in the view from his office window.

One thing most people don’t know about Lewis Carroll is that he was a pioneer in the world of 19th century photography and he got special permission from the Dean to photograph the Cathedral spire. It took two and a half hours to set up all of his equipment and the Dean’s children were invited along to see the spectacle, it being so unusual. And that is where Charles Dodgson met a three year old Alice Liddell for the first time.

He often entertained the Liddell children with made up stories, magic tricks and party games, and it was in the summer of 1862 – Friday 4 July to be precise – when Alice was ten years old, that Dodgson and his friend took the children on a boat trip up to Port Meadow for a picnic, and Dodgson told the story of Alice in Wonderland for the very first time.

Click here to read the full interview with Jim Godfrey

Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Charles Dodgson was a valued member of Christ Church and a collection of material, including autograph letters, manuscripts and a large number of editions of the “Alice” books in different languages are available for the use of researchers upon application to the Library. A significant part of the Lewis Carroll collection has now been digitized and made available online here.

In another celebration of our connections to Alice - real and fictional - and her storyteller, Charles Dodgson, the college periodically offers an 'Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter's Tea Party'. Do keep an eye out in our Events listing pages for these exciting opportunities which can include afternoon tea, a talk, and even a behind-the-scenes tour of Christ Church.

Elsewhere in Oxford the Story Museum have their own day full of Alice related activities planned.

Plus the Story Museum have generously created an Alice Day 2018 events page including an exhaustive list of other Oxford based Alice themed happenings you can attend or participate in on 7 July 2018.


We wish you a joyful and adventurous Alice Day!