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Down the rabbit hole? Or not....

Written by Judith Curthoys, posted on Sunday, September 1, 2019

Document of the Month September 2019

Christ Church Archives Maps ChCh 110/2

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"

So she was considering, in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" (when she thought it over afterwards it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but, when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.

The beginning of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland tells of a little girl scampering after a white rabbit and finding herself falling down what appeared to be a very deep well. Many of the characters in the Alice stories were based on people that Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) knew in Christ Church and Oxford; the White Rabbit, for example, was Alice’s father, Dean Henry Liddell, who was always late for everything. And there are places, too, such as the little green gate that opens from the Deanery garden into the Cathedral garden [not open to the public], which was the inspiration for the secret door that Alice longed to go through.

At the back of the dining Hall at Christ Church, set in the panelling, there is another ‘secret door’. Tradition has it that the spiral stone staircase behind the door gave Carroll the idea for the rabbit hole well. But, however much of a lovely idea this might be, especially as it leads down to the Senior Common Room where senior members of Christ Church might find a bottle with ‘Drink Me’ on the label, the staircase was not actually built until 1908 when the renowned London architect, William Douglas Caröe, was commissioned by the Governing Body to undertake repairs to Tom Quad and Tom Tower and to make additions to the kitchen. The spiral staircase – shown in these rather lovely drawings - was part of that work.