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The Alice Door: Advent Doors 2018

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Thursday, December 6, 2018


A door forbidden to Alice but used by the White Rabbit, who was always late! This gate, joining the gardens of the Cathedral and the Deanery, has links with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, written by Christ Church Mathematics lecturer Charles Dodgson. Step through and take a trip into Wonderland...

The Alice Door open! The Alice Door is tucked away in a part of college that most people never get to see, in the north wall of the Cathedral Garden, and leads between this garden and that of the Deanery, just next door.

While it might look like just another old gate in an Oxford college wall, this one has some special stories to tell. Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church 1855-91, lived at the Deanery with his family, including his daughter Alice. One of their regular visitors was the Mathematics lecturer Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name of Lewis Carroll, who was inspired by Alice to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865.

The gate itself was there long before Alice and her father – by the 1730s at the latest, and probably even earlier – but gains particular significance during this time, when Alice would watch her father heading through the gate in order to get to Cathedral services quickly, as he was always late – just like the White Rabbit. Alice herself was not allowed in the Cathedral Garden, as only the Dean could cross it, so had to resort to peering through the gate to get a glimpse of the mysterious place that lay beyond. Likewise, after her fall down the rabbit hole at the beginning of Dodgson’s story, Alice is faced with a hallway full of locked doors. She eventually finds the key to one of them, but is too large to fit through the door and enter the beautiful garden that she can see on the other side.

And the Alice connections don’t stop there… The chestnut tree in the Deanery garden, just to one side of the Alice Door, is supposedly the one that the Cheshire Cat sat on, so this part of the college is full of things that proved inspirational to Dodgson when he wrote about Alice’s adventures.

You can find out more about Charles Dodgson and Alice in this blog post, a pen portrait on the Cathedral Blog, and there’s more information about the Alice Door itself in the Cathedral’s post about Alice Day.