Alice’s Adventures in Oxfordland

Everyone loves reading Alice in Wonderland or watching the films. Behind the fantasy was a real little girl, Alice Liddell. Blue Badge Guide, Tabby Lucas, tells her story.

Alice was born in London on 4th May 1852, the third child of Henry and Lorina Liddell. The family moved to Oxford in 1855 when her father became Dean (head) of Christ Church.

hrist Church, one of Oxford’s grandest colleges. ©Tabby Lucas

A boat trip

Alice and her siblings enjoyed going on outings with Charles Dodgson, a young mathematics tutor at Christ Church. In later life Alice recalled that Dodgson, “always brought out with him a basket full of cakes, and a kettle” on their expeditions.

One “golden afternoon” on 4th July 1862 ten-year-old Alice and two of her sisters, Lorina and Edith, went with Dodgson and his friend the Rev. Robinson Duckworth on a rowing boat along the Thames for a picnic at Godstow.

Dodgson often entertained the children with stories based on people and places they knew. That afternoon he sent his bored heroine, Alice, down a rabbit hole, admitting to Duckworth, “I’m inventing it as we go along.”

When they returned home, Alice pestered him to write up this tale – Dodgson stayed up to the small hours noting down what he could remember and worked on the stories over the following years.

Alice and the Dodo by John Tenniel (Public Domain). Everyone who had gone on the picnic to Godstow appears – Charles Dodgson, due to his stammer, was the Dodo, Duckworth (a duck), Edith (an eaglet) and Lorina (a lory).


Christmas gift

At last, on 26th November 1864, Alice was given a handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground as a Christmas gift “in Memory of a Summer’s Day.”

Charles Dodgson illustrated the manuscript he gave to Alice himself. The original is now in the British Library (Public Domain).

When it came to publication the book’s name changed to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Dodgson’s pen name). The original manuscript was illustrated by Dodgson himself but he asked professional illustrator John Tenniel to provide the drawings for the book.


Sweet tooth

Alice’s adventures continued when Charles Dodgson published Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There in 1871. Like many children Alice enjoyed eating sweets.  Her favourites were barley sugars that she would buy from a nearby shop, which still exists today. This shop appears in Through the Looking-Glass with a sheep as the shopkeeper. Suitably for a mirror world, the shop is the wrong way round in Tenniel’s illustration.

Alice’s Shop: Alice went here to buy barley sugar – her favourite sweets. © Tabby Lucas

Old sheep shop from Through the Looking-Glass by John Tenniel (Public Domain).


Alice grows up

Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold, came up to Christ Church in 1872. Interest in Royal gossip was the same then as now and rumours have rattled around over the years that he fell in love with Alice or her younger sister Edith. It is certain that Queen Victoria would not have approved of him marrying either of the Liddell girls – she wanted a Royal princess for her son.

In 1880, Alice married another Christ Church man, the cricketer Reginald Hargreaves, at Westminster Abbey. The young couple moved to Lyndhurst in the New Forest.

Alice and Reginald had three boys – their second son was named Leopold Reginald with Prince Leopold acting as godfather.  When Prince Leopold’s own daughter was born in 1883 she was called Alice, possibly after his sister or maybe after his old friend. Tragically, Alice’s two eldest sons died in the First World War. You can see Captain Leopold Reginald Hargreaves’s name on Christ Church’s war memorial.

On 15 November 1934, Alice died at the age of 82 years. Her grave is in the church yard of St Michael and All Angels, Lyndhurst.


Featured image: Alice playing croquet by John Tenniel (Public Domain). A game the real Alice enjoyed but not using flamingos or hedgehogs.


About the Author:

Tabby Lucas is a specialist Oxford Green Badge Guide and a Blue Badge Guide for the Heart of England. She was born and grew up in Oxford with her sister Alice – they too enjoyed taking boat trips on the river but never fell down any rabbit holes! She loves to help visitors discover her home city and also to explore the nearby Cotswold Hills where she now lives. If you would like to find out more please see Tabby’s Guild profile, visit her website Cotswold and Oxford Tours, or look on Instagram.