Although we’ve lived near Guildford for many years, I’ve only recently discovered the connection with the bestselling author, Lewis Carroll. The famous author of children’s book, Alice in Wonderland, became a frequent visitor to Guildford, after buying a house here. Today, there’s still much evidence of Lewis Carroll’s association with Guildford, so we set about finding Alice.
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Lewis Carroll in Guildford
We started our quest to find Alice at Guildford Castle, which is a stone’s throw from Lewis Carroll’s family home, “The Chestnuts”.
Carroll (whose real name was Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) bought the house in 1868, after his father’s death. As the eldest of eleven siblings, he suddenly became head of the household. Consequently, he needed somewhere for his six unmarried sisters to live.
He chose Guildford, as he liked walking in the area and it had good links with London. Furthermore, he could access it easily by train from his home in Oxford.
The Chestnuts is an eight-bedroom house overlooking Guildford Castle and was the ideal residence for his extended family. The Chestnuts still stands in Castle Hill.
By the time the family moved to the new home in Guildford, Lewis Carroll had already written Alice in Wonderland. His inspiration had come from stories he told to ten-year old Alice, the daughter of his friend Liddell. However, influence for his later books, including “Alice through the Looking Glass” apparently came from Carroll’s time in Guildford.
Alice in Wonderland
Even if you’ve not read the fantastical children’s book, Alice in Wonderland, you’re probably familiar with the story or film. The main character, Alice, is a young girl who has an adventure after following a white rabbit down a hole.
Alice’s journey leads her to a subterranean, mythical world. Here she meets bizarre characters such as the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the March Hare, and a hookah-smoking Caterpillar. The story follows her escapades with shrinking drinks, a Mad Hatter’s tea party and an encounter with the Red Queen.
By the end of the 19th Century Alice in Wonderland was the most popular children’s book in England and later in the world.
Alice in Wonderland at Guildford Castle
Today there are many tributes to Lewis Carroll in Guildford, including two statues of Alice.
The first statue, “Alice through the Looking Glass” is in the grounds of Guildford Castle. The life-size statue is in Alice’s Garden on the eastern side of the castle.
The statue depicts Alice trying to climb through the looking glass. Sculptor, Jeanne Argent, made the statue in 1990 to mark the link between Lewis Carroll and Guildford.
Click here for more details about Guildford Castle.
Lewis Carroll in Guildford Museum
Outside the grounds of the Guildford Castle in the old gatehouse is Guildford Museum. Here you can see a collection of memorabilia belonging to the former residents of Chestnuts.
Other references to Carroll’s Alice near Guildford Castle are The March Hare pub and the aptly named hat shop, The Mad Hatter.
Lewis Carroll and St Mary's Church
As we headed down Quarry Street, away from Guildford Castle we stumbled across St Mary’s Church, where Lewis Carroll (as Rev. Dodgson) would sometimes preach.
As a frequent visitor to the town, the Oxford don also gave lectures in logic at Abbot’s Hospital in Guildford High Street.
Alice & the White Rabbit
We found the second statue of Alice in Wonderland on the lawn at Millmead by the River Wey. This delightful bronze statue is of Alice reading with her sister, just before following the White Rabbit down his hole. A local sculptor, Edwin Russell, made the statue in 1984.
You can get to it by crossing the bridge at the bottom of the High Street by Debenhams.
Lewis Carroll's grave
The last stop on our Alice in Wonderland trail was at the Mount Cemetery. Lewis Carroll is buried here in a simple grave in front of the chapel.
Lewis Carroll died of flu in January 1898 at the family home in Guildford. His sisters continued to live at the Chestnuts until 1919.
Guildford Cemetery is a ten-minute walk from the Alice & White Rabbit statue up a steep road, The Mount.
Finding Alice in Guildford
Our hunt for Alice and Lewis Carroll’s Guildford took us on a leisurely stroll, to parts of Guildford I don’t usually visit. It’s a circular route taking you from the Castle to the River Wey and back up Guildford High Street.
If nothing else, you’ll enjoy visiting the castle and a tour of some of the historical buildings in Guildford. If you’re not feeling energetic, miss the cemetery, as it’s a steep trek up the hill to get there!
Have you seen Alice in Guildford? Please feel free to comment below.
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