With a vivid imagination and a love for historical places, a trip to Oxford guarantees a tumble down the rabbit hole and into a world where the real-life Alice in Wonderland once lived. Because, yes, Alice was a real person and author of the book, Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) actually met her. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best of Alice in Wonderland in Oxford locations and inspiration!
A quick history to the real-life Alice in Wonderland in Oxford
For those unfamiliar with the author of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, he was a tutor at Christ College Oxford for a large part of his career. Alice Liddell was the Dean’s daughter and she was to become the inspiration for the central protagonist of two fictional books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) & Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871).
Elements of the fantastical world Caroll conjures within his novels can be found throughout the city. From the Dodo of the Natural History Museum through to the incredible Botanical Gardens and simply all of the architectural features which are layered to create an intricate backdrop through which Alice navigates, all this and more is to be found in Oxford, the city of dreaming spires.
Folly Bridge & River Thames
Caroll first conceived his magical world on a single boat ride along the River Thames with 10-year old Alice Liddell and her family. Caroll (real name Dodgson) was a close friend of Alice’s parents, Henry and Lorina Liddell and the group would often spend time together, particularly during the late 1950s. The date was 4th July 1862.
Although Caroll had never intended to become a children’s writer, Alice so loved the story so that she asked him to write it down. The story was about a girl who was bored, in search of magical adventures and so the novels everyone knows and love to this day was born…
Christ Church College
One of the main highlights for discovering Alice in Wonderland in Oxford can be found in the form of Christ Church College, a place of learning first established by King Henry VIII in 1546. Since its opening in the 16th-century, no less than 13 prime ministers have attended the college, as have several Kings and Archbishops.
Of course, Lewis Carroll also attended Christ Church College, just as his father had done before him. However, he did not study language or English literature as many people so assume. Instead, he attended Oxford to study Mathematics where he went on to gain first-class honours in the Final Honours School of Mathematics.
Alice in Wonderland, Illustration by John Tenniel, wood-engraving by Thomas Dalziel, 1800s
He then remained at Christ Church in order to study and teach simultaneously before he won the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship in 1855, a position which he retained for over a quarter of a century. During his time as a mathematical lecturer, he went on to meet Alice, and begin his second career as an innovative wordsmith.
Within the college, there are several Alice features, some more subtle than others. One particular feature of note is a stained glass window within the college’s cathedral dedicated to Alice Liddell. Elsewhere on campus, a tree in the grounds serves for inspiration for the place where the Chesire Cat enjoyed spending time, while a green door inspired the White Rabbit’s door. If you’re a fan of all things Harry Potter related, then it’s also worth noting that ‘The Great Hall’ part of the college was where Harry Potter was filmed!
If you are a fan of all things Alice related, then you simply must visit Alice’s Shop (83 St Aldate’s). Once upon a time, this was the very location where the real-life Alice in Wonderland, Alice Liddell would buy her favourite sweets- barley sugar in case you were wondering! It’s often thought that this storefront also inspired the ‘Old Sheep Shop’ in the Through the Looking Glass book.
The building itself dates all the way back to the 15th-century, though the structure was heavily remodelled and modified during the 1800s. Today, numbers 82 and 83 St Aldate’s are Grade II* listed, notably for the quirky bay window which now displays oodles of Alice in Wonderland in Oxford related goods.
Though the Master’s Garden is closed to the public, it can still be spied via a gate along Merton Walk. It’s thought that this flat grassy lawn, or one similar influenced the fantastical Queen’s Croquet Ground from the book. While we were venturing past, the sun was shining and students were even playing their very own game of croquet on the lawn!
Museum of Natural History
Although not explicitly mentioned in any of the books, Oxford’s Natural History Museum now houses an exhibit celebrating Alice in Wonderland, and specifically the Dodo which so features in the books. Another preserved and taxidermy character from the book is a white rabbit holding a pocket watch (sound familiar?!)