Lady in Alice in Wonderland’s Oxford

I have always had a strong connection to Alice in Wonderland. For starters, my mother’s name is Alice. As if that’s not enough, playing the role of Alice in the musical version when I was young made me an even bigger fan. But it wasn’t until I moved to London that I learned what a strong connection Alice herself had to one specific place: Oxford.

White rabbit from Alice in Wonderland in Oxford

Charles Dodgson—aka Lewis Carroll—the author of the book, was a tutor at Christ Church college at Oxford University when he wrote Alice in Wonderland. The dean of the college had a daughter named Alice Liddell, who served as Carroll’s inspiration for the protagonist of his story.

Christ Church college in Oxford

But there’s more to Alice in Wonderland’s Oxford connection than just the basics, and when VisitEngland invited me out for an Alice-inspired day trip from London, I looked forward to learning more.

Story Museum in Oxford

We traveled to Oxford in the morning and went straight to Christ Church college. There we took a tour of the cathedral, which was home to some great Alice highlights. One was a garden with a green door that later become the White Rabbit’s door. Behind it was a large tree that served as the inspiration for the Cheshire Cat’s favorite place to flash its signature smile.

Christ Church cathedral garden in Oxford

Inside the cathedral was a stained glass window depicting the story of Oxford’s patron saint, Frideswide. One of the windows showed her setting up a treacle well in nearby Binsey. That same well served as the model for the treacle well in Alice in Wonderland.

Christ Church cathedral stained glass window in Oxford

But it wasn’t all fiction in the cathedral. There were also some real Alice stories to be discovered there. One stemmed from a bust of Queen Victoria’s son Leopold, who lived with Alice Liddell’s family when he attended Oxford University.

Christ Church cathedral bust in Oxford

Rumor had it that Leopold and Alice fell in love, but were prevented from marrying. That didn’t keep them from naming their children after one another, though. The proof was shown on a war memorial plaque outside of the cathedral that bore Alice’s son’s name.

Candle in Christ Church cathedral in Oxford

Leaving the church, we continued our Alice in Wonderland tour of Oxford with a trip to the Old Sheep Shop, an Alice-themed gift shop that sold everything from figurines to pencil erasers that featured all of the characters in the book.

Alice in Wonderland shop in Oxford

After stopping at the shop, we had a quick lunch at the Macdonald Randolph Hotel in Oxford and then made our way to the Museum of Natural History. There we met another character from Carroll’s story: the Dodo.

Dodo bird in Oxford

Long extinct, the real dodo bird appeared in the museum in taxidermy form. Near it was a case with taxidermy versions of other characters in the book, including a white rabbit holding a pocket watch.

Taxidermy rabbit in Oxford

Speaking of the characters, our next stop was at the famous Bodleian Library, which had a small exhibition displaying various editions of Alice in Wonderland with illustrations by numerous artists.

Building in Oxford England

From there we continued to another museum, this one called the Story Museum. It was a a great place for interactive learning, and had an entire room dedicated to an exhibition about Alice in Wonderland.

Story Museum in Oxford

Various artists had been commissioned to illustrate scenes from the book, and in one corner was an old Alice-themed card game. The walls were covered with teacup paintings, and the lights above us were also shaped like teacups.

Tea cup paintings in the Story Museum in Oxford

In a nearby room there was a Mad Hatter tea party set up, complete with hats hanging above chairs so that we could pose for photos with various headpieces on.

Hats in the Story Museum in Oxford

Tearing ourselves away from the Story Museum, we walked through some pedestrianized shopping streets and made our way to the Malmaison hotel in Oxford. The hotel, which was housed in a former prison, was where I stayed on my last overnight trip to Oxford.

Alice in Wonderland cards in the Story Museum in Oxford

This time we weren’t staying the night, though. We were at the hotel for afternoon tea and millinery.

Feathers at the Malmaison hotel in Oxford

The Malmaison’s upstairs function room had been transformed into a real Mad Hatter tea party, complete with milliner Katherine Elizabeth, a London-based hat designer who taught us how to make our own head pieces.

Afternoon tea at the Malmaison hotel in Oxford

We spent the next two hours enjoying cake and scones while fashioning fascinators out of felt, feathers, and everything else we could find in Katherine’s hat boxes. It was all good fun, and the end result was a pleasantly full feeling and a fascinator that didn’t look half bad (a friend of mine even wore it to Goodwood last week!).

Afternoon tea cakes at the Malmaison hotel in Oxford

It was a great way to end our Alice in Wonderland day trip to Oxford. As we traveled home to London, we drifted off to sleep dreaming of white rabbits, dodos, and Mad Hatters in beautiful hats. If my affinity for Alice hadn’t been strong before, it was certainly cemented then.

2 Comments on Lady in Alice in Wonderland’s Oxford

  1. Emily
    August 14, 2012 at 5:07 pm (2 years ago)

    how fun! But I think this blog post would really only be complete if we could dig up an old picture of you as Alice! :) you were a very good Alice, at least in the opinion of this five of clubs!! :)

    Reply
    • aladyinlondon
      August 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm (2 years ago)

      Aw, thanks Emily! I’m sure there is a photo of us together somewhere!

      Reply

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