If you had to name one book or film that is associated with Oxford, it would most likely be Harry Potter. However, long before the Harry Potter film crew graced the doors of Christ Church, the city was associated with another hugely popular children’s story: Alice in Wonderland.
The character of Alice in Wonderland was born in the city of dreaming spires and as such there are many Alice in Wonderland locations to be found in Oxford.
Here’s my Alice in Wonderland tour of Oxford where I separate fact from fiction!
Our story begins in 1850 when Charles Dodgson began studying at Christ Church in Oxford.
Wait but who is Charles Dodgson?
That was the real name of Lewis Carroll, which was but a pen name!
Dodgson remained at Christ Church for over 30 years going from student to tutor at this beautiful Oxford college. If you thought he studied something creative like English, think again! He studied maths (even achieving a double first!) and became a children’s writer quite by accident.
It was at Christ Church that Lewis Carroll first met Alice Liddell, the girl who would inspire the beloved character Alice in Wonderland.
Alice Liddell was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, the head of the college and Cathedral. One day in 1856, she was playing in the Deanery Gardens with her sisters when they ran into Lewis Carroll, who was photographing the Cathedral.
However, it was not until July 4th 1862 that the story of Alice in Wonderland came to be. On this day, Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell were out on a boating trip up the River Thames.
He liked to create stories to tell Alice and her siblings on their outings but this day’s story was so enthralling that Alice asked him to write it down for her.
He gifted the finished story to her for Christmas in 1864 and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865.
The story began on a boating trip so we’ll begin our Alice in Wonderland tour of Oxford with Folly Bridge on the River Thames. This is where Lewis Carroll and the Liddell sisters set out on their outing where Alice in Wonderland was first thought up.
You can rent a row boat here just like Lewis Carroll did, or you can rent a punt (much more fun, and very “Oxford”!). By Folly Bridge is Salter’s Streamers which rents row boats, punts and even motorboats. Find out more here.
If you’re visiting Oxford in the summer then a boat trip is an absolute must!
Address: Folly Bridge, Abingdon Road, Oxford OX1 1SW
Alice’s Window at Christ Church
Christ Church is the most famous Oxford college because of its grandeur and the numerous Harry Potter Oxford locations here. It’s also where Lewis Carroll first met Alice Liddell and there are lots of Alice in Wonderland locations for those with a keen eye.
In the dining hall at Christ Church, there is a tiny tribute to Alice in Wonderland in the stained glass. In the bottom left of one of the stained glass panels is a small Alice in Wonderland with long blonde hair in her iconic blue dress. In the centre of the panel is a girl’s face and this is Alice Liddell.
It’s about half way down the hall, above the fireplace. There are 8 panels of stained glass and Alice is in the bottom left corner of the top left panel.
There’s always a custodian at the door so I suggest you ask them where you can find Alice if you can’t see her. The hall is very large and you could be looking for a long time otherwise!
RELATED: Check out my post on Harry Potter locations in Oxford for more information on the Great Hall.
Firedogs at Christ Church
Half way down the dining hall you will find a fireplace on either side of the hall. Flanking the fire are two brass firedogs, which were the inspiration for Alice’s long neck in Chapter 5, Advice from a Caterpillar.
The Capterpillar tells Alice that one side will make her taller and the other will make her shorter. As she grows taller, she finds that she has an enormously elongated neck and can barely see her own hands! You can see the resemblance between their long necks and the illustrations of Alice with a long neck.
Come, my head’s free at last!’ said Alice in a tone of delight, which changed into alarm in another moment, when she found that her shoulders were nowhere to be found: all she could see, when she looked down, was an immense length of neck, which seemed to rise like a stalk out of a sea of green leaves that lay far below her.Chapter 5, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Alice Door at Christ Church
The Alice Door at Christ Church is sadly not available for public viewing as it connects the Deanery and Cathedral Gardens, which are private. Indeed, even in Alice Liddell’s time the door was a symbol of much mystery.
This is because Alice would only have seen it from the side of the Deanery Garden as only the Dean was allowed to cross the Cathedral Garden.
Fictional Alice struggles to get through a door with a beautiful garden on the other side at the very beginning of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and this door at Christ Church was the inspiration! She encounters numerous problems when trying to get through the door be it her size or the door key.
Suddenly she came upon a little three-legged table, all made of solid glass; there was nothing on it except a tiny golden key, and Alice’s first thought was that it might belong to one of the doors of the hall; but, alas! either the locks were too large, or the key was too small, but at any rate it would not open any of them. However, on the second time round, she came upon a low curtain she had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high: she tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight it fitted!
Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw.Chapter 1, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
RELATED: Check out this post for more facts about Christ Church Oxford you didn’t know.
The Cheshire Cat Tree
Many sources cite the chestnut tree in the Deanery Garden at Christ Church as the inspiration for the tree the Chesire Cat sat in. However, Christ Chruch’s very own Cathedral Verger, Jim Godfrey, has stated that it is not.
There are around eight trees around the country that claim to be the Cheshire Cat tree. However, Godfrey is adamant that the original tree that inspired Carroll is in fact in his hometown, Croft-on-Tees, where Carroll once lived.
The Lewis Carroll Collection in Christ Church Library
Christ Church, as Lewis Carroll’s alma mater, has many of his original writings, drawings, autograph letters and manuscripts in their library. Unfortunately the library is not open to the public, most Oxford University libraries aren’t, but lots of the Lewis Carroll collection has been digitalised.
You can view some images related to the making of Alice in Wonderland here. There are sketches, a draft title page by Carroll, correspondence with publishers and financial accounts and more.
Visiting Christ Church
Price: Offpeak: £8, Peak: £10.
Opening Hours: Mondays to Saturdays – 10am-5pm; Sundays – 2pm-5pm
Address: Christ Church, St Aldates, Oxford, OX1 1DP
Just outside the Meadows entrance to Christ Church, you’ll find Alice’s shop, the original Alice in Wonderland Shop in Oxford. The building dates back to the 15th century and was once a Victorian sweet shop. It is actually where Alice Liddell bought sweets as a child and features in Through the Looking Glass!
Well, this is the very queerest shop I ever saw!Chapter 5, Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
The real-life shop was also the model for Tenniel’s illustration of the old sheep’s shop in Through the Looking Glass. A whole scene of Through the Looking Glass is set in a curiosity shop, thought to have been inspired by this small shop. In Carroll’s version, there is a sheep sitting behind the counter but sadly you won’t find a sheep serving you today.
The shop seemed to be full of all manner of curious things—but the oddest part of it all was, that whenever she looked hard at any shelf, to make out exactly what it had on it, that particular shelf was always quite empty: though the others round it were crowded as full as they could hold.Chapter 5, Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Alice’s Shop is also the perfect place to buy gifts and souvenirs in Oxford!
Address: Alice’s Shop, 83 St Aldate’s, Oxford OX1 1RA
Opening Hours: 10am-5pm every day (except Tuesday, 12pm-5pm)
Museum of Oxford in the Town Hall
Most visitors (indeed, most residents!) have never heard of the Museum in Oxford. This micro-museum can be found in the Town Hall on St Aldate’s and its exhibits tell the story of Oxford and the people who have lived here over the centuries.
The museum displays several personal items belonging to Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson. Here you’ll find Alice’s calling-card case, scissors and seal. There’s also Dodgson’s pocket watch, which no longer works and stopped at 1:17.
It’s very, very small museum but if you’ve got a moment then make a short pit stop after your visit to Christ Church as it’s just 2 minutes away!
Address: Museum of Oxford, Oxford Town Hall, St Aldate’s, Oxford, OX1 1BX
Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm Monday to Saturday
Museum of Natural History
Lewis Carroll made frequent visits to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History with the Liddell sisters. The museum is well worth a visit on any trip to Oxford because of its stunning architecture and well-curated exhibits. However, a particular point of interest for Alice in Wonderland fans is the Oxford Dodo.
‘What I was going to say,’ said the Dodo in an offended tone, ‘was, that the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race.’Chapter 3, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Dodo is, of course, extinct, however, Oxford Museum of Natural History has a painting of a Dodo by Dutch painter Jan Savery, which is thought to have inspired Lewis Carroll. This painting was also used as a source of inspiration by Sir John Tennial, the first illustrator of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
FUN FACT: The Dodo also represent Dodgson himself as he had a stammer and would introduce himself as “Do-Do-Dodgson”
There is now a small section dedicated to the Oxford Dodo in the museum, including a precious example of the Dodo that was procured in 1860. This is the most well-preserved example of the Dodo and still contains soft issue and DNA that could be used to recreate the Dodo today!
The museum also inspired Lewis Carroll’s poem, The Deserted Parks.
Opening Hours: 10am-5pm every day
Address: Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PW
University of Oxford Botanic Garden
Oxford University Botanic Garden was visited frequently by Lewis Carroll and the Liddell sisters on their outings and the gardens here inspired many outdoor spaces in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
In the original editions published in 1865, you can see the Botanic Gardens waterlily house in the background of Sir John Tennial’s illustration “The Queen’s Croquet-Ground”.
RELATED: For more information on authors inspired by the Botanic Garden, check out my guide to Oxford for Book Lovers.
Price: Adult: £5.45, Children U16: free.
Opening Hours: 9am-4pm every day
Address: University of Oxford Botanic Garden, Rose Lane, Oxford OX1 4AZ
Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell would often explore the many gardens of Oxford University and it is thought that the beautiful Worcester College gardens were a particular source of inspiration for those in Wonderland.
Some sources say that a subterranean passage at Worcester may have inspired the rabbit hole that Alice falls down and Worcester College lake may have inspired the Pool of Tears in Chapter 2 of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
However, I have been in touch with the archivist at Worcester College and there is no proof that this was the case. The passage in question was built in 1856 so it was in existence when Carroll was at Oxford but that is all we know.
The only documented connection between Worcester College and Lewis Carroll is in 1895 when Oxford University Dramatic Society produced an outdoor production of Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll himself attended many of the rehearsals.
In any case, Worcester College is free for the public to visit so make sure to add this beautiful Oxford college to your list of things to do in Oxford!
Address: 1 Walton St, Oxford OX1 2HB
Opening Hours: 2pm to 4pm every day (subject to change)
Lewis Carroll and the Liddells made their way from Folly Bridge to Port Meadow where they stopped off for a picnic and Carroll continued his story.
This huge expanse of green is just a brisk twenty minute walk from the centre of Oxford but you will feel like you’ve been transported to the depths of the English countryside. There are often wild horses and cows wandering around and many people go for a dip in the water when the weather is warm!
The Perch is located a little way out of the centre of Oxford but it is one of my favourite places to spend an afternoon in Oxford. Clearly Lewis Carroll felt the same way as it was one of his regular haunts! It’s also where Lewis Carroll gave his first public reading of Alice in Wonderland.
This is a great spot if you’re visiting Oxford in the summer as there’s a very large beer garden that is great for groups of people to relax in. Plus the food and drinks are great too!
RELATED: Check out my guide to the best brunch in Oxford for more inspiration on where to eat.
Address: The Perch, Binsey Lane, Binsey, Oxford OX2 0NG
Opening Hours: 10:30am-11pm every day
St Margaret’s Well
A 12 minute walk from The Perch is St Margaret’s Well, which is part of St Margaret’s Church in Binsey. This was the inspiration for the treacle well in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
At the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, the Dormouse tells the story of three sisters at the bottom of a treacle well. Can you guess who these three sisters are?
The Liddell sisters!
Alice did not wish to offend the Dormouse again, so she began very cautiously:
‘But I don’t understand. Where did they draw the treacle from?’
‘You can draw water out of a water-well,’ said the Hatter; ‘so I should think you could draw treacle out of a treacle-well—eh, stupid?’Chapter 7, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Address: St Margaret’s Church, Binsey, Oxford, OX2 0NG
The Mad Hatter Cocktail Bar
Finish up your Alice in Wonderland tour of Oxford at The Mad Hatter in Cowley. It’s a Speakeasy cocktail bar in Oxford that is inspired by the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. It’s quirky and eccentric so, of course, your cocktails will be served in tea cups.
Individual cocktails cost around £6 – £7.50 each but to make things really fun you can share a teapot with friends from £21.50 or even a bowl from £35-£100.
Drink, dance and sing the night away at The Mad Hatter. This bar is great for special occasions and parties and they even have karaoke and cocktail masterclasses.
Address: 43 Iffley Road, Oxford, OX4 1EA
Opening Hours: Tues-Wed: 7pm – 12am; Thurs-Sat: 7pm – Late
NB. July is the perfect time for Alice in Wonderland fans to visit Oxford as that is traditionally when Alice’s Day in Oxford is held! There are usually lots of Alice in Wonderland related events all around the city and it’s great fun.
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