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In Alice's Wonderland

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by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published July 23rd 2014
Down the rabbit hole
Wherever you go in Oxford, there's something to remind you of a literary landscape. One of the most common to see is anything to do with Alice in Wonderland. But what, one might ask, does this ancient city have to do with a children's story?

alice, wonderland, oxford, whittards, mugs
Alice mugs in Whittard's


Alice Liddell was the daughter of the Master of Christ Church (who himself is more famous as the co-author of the main Ancient Greek to English dictionary!). There is still a 'Liddell' building today. One of the lecturers, a certain Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, began to write stories for her, and so began the trail. There may be no connection between the two Alices beyond this, but it seems likely, and fun, to imagine so.

alice, wonderland, oxford, natural, history, museum
'The Real Alice' at the Natural History Museum


The Master's garden is now private, and not accessible to tourists except by peering through the gate, but gives you a sense of Alice's natural playground, the kind of place where she might well have hidden with a book up a tree. Wonderland itself is the route down the Thames from Folly Bridge to Godstow, a trip they took together which began the story in question.

alice, wonderland, masters, garden, christ, church
The Master's garden at Christ Church


Even though Christ Church runs on 'Christ Church time' (five minutes West of GMT), the Master was well known for running late, and his hasty dashes around the quads gave rise to the White Rabbit's famous saying.

Across the road from Christ Church is 'Alice's Shop'. This was once a simple sweet shop, much enjoyed by the young girl, but now it is a tribute shop to her, with much more than sweets on offer.

alice, wonderland, shop, oxford
Alice's Shop on St Aldate's


Croquet remains popular, with thousands of students playing it every summer. You might spot them through college railings, or you can go to the lawn in the University Parks.

The Natural History Museum has many Alice-themed exhibits, most obviously the Dodo. Charles Dodgson incorporated elements of many real people into the books, and he himself may be behind the Dodo, given his tendency to pronounce his name Dodo-Dodgson because of a stammer.

alice, wonderland, dodo, natural, history, museum, oxford
Dodo in the Natural History Museum


She is celebrated with an annual 'Alice's Day', coordinated by the Story Museum. If you wander around Oxford, you're bound to see loads of girls in blue dresses and others in more colourful attire. The whole city is bursting with events. Here's a brief description of 2014, but similar things will happen each year.

alice, day, oxford, banner, wonderland
Alice's Day


Over in the Ashmolean, they turned the upstairs restaurant into a special café, with food and drink themed on the books (Eat Me, Drink Me), and fancy-dress helpers ready to serve you with a giant teapot.

ashmolean, tea, restaurant, oxford, alice, wonderland
Tea party at the Ashmolean


Downstairs, in the education suite, there was a code-making activity, where children could create their own code-wheels. The literary bent was continued over at Blackwells, who had story-telling events running throughout the day. The same was true over at the Story Museum and the Town Hall. You could even follow your own Alice hunt!

In the Botanic Gardens, marquees are set up for a tea-party, with face-painting, and a great gala atmosphere. The gardens back on to Christ Church meadow, so are very much a part of Alice's landscape.

alice, wonderland, oxford, botanic, garden
Alice's Day in the Botanic Gardens


Beyond the places already mentioned, just keep an eye out across Oxford. Whatever time of year you come there will be something going on though. Alice's legacy is ever-evident.

alice, day, wonderland, oxford, balloon
Balloons for Alice's day
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When: All year - Alice's day early July
Where: All around Oxford
Your Comment
I didn't realise Alice was such a feature in Oxford.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12075) 1574 days ago
An Alice's Day - smashing! I must remember to celebrate it next year.
by Jenny Rossiter (score: 3|4055) 1574 days ago
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