Finding Alice in Wonderland in Guildford

by Jan

Although we’ve lived near Guildford in Surrey 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 renting a house here.  Today, there’s still much evidence of Lewis Carroll’s association with Guildford, so we set about finding Alice.

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) leased the house in 1868, after his father’s death.  As the eldest boy of eleven siblings, he suddenly became head of the household.  Consequently, Carroll needed somewhere for his six unmarried sisters to live.

Lewis Carroll chose Guildford for the new family home, as he liked walking in the area and it had good links with London.  Furthermore, he could access it easily by train from his own home in Oxford.

Lewis Carroll's house in Guildford, "Chestnuts"

The Chestnuts is an elegant eight-bedroom house overlooking Guildford Castle and was the ideal residence for his extended family.  The Chestnuts still stands in Castle Hill.

Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1861, seven years before the family moved to the new home in Guildford.  Usually known as Alice in Wonderland, the book was inspired from stories the author told to ten-year old Alice, the daughter of his Oxford friend Henry Liddell.  The Liddell family played an important role in Carroll’s life and he spent much time with the children.

However, Lewis Carroll had been writing poems and stories since he was a young boy and would often send his work off to national magazines.

Later, in 1871, he wrote Alice through the Looking Glass.  The inspiration for this novel apparently came from Carroll’s time in Guildford.

Alice in Wonderland

Alice's Garden Sign, Guildford, Surrey, UK

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

Alice through the looking glass, Guildford, Surrey, UK

Today there are many tributes to Lewis Carroll in Guildford, including two statues of Alice.

One of the best statues in Guildford,  “Alice through the Looking Glass” is in the grounds of the medieval Guildford Castle.  It’s a small Norman castle with award-winning gardens. The life-size statue is in Alice’s Garden on the eastern side of the castle.  Admission to the gardens are free, so visitors can wander round the back to see the art work.

The statue depicts Alice trying to climb through the looking glass. Sculptor, Jeanne Argent, created 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

Guildford Museum, Guildford, Surrey, UK

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.  Admission to Guildford Museum is also free.  However, if you plan to visit, check the opening times first.

Other references to Carroll’s Alice near Guildford Castle are The March Hare pub and the aptly named hat shop, The Mad Hatter.

The March Hare pub, Guildford, Surrey, UK

Lewis Carroll and St Mary's Church

St Mary's Church, Guildford, Surrey, UK

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.  His funeral was held here in 1898.

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

Statue of Alice and her sister, Guildford, Surrey, UK

You’ll find 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 Guildford High Street.

Statue of White Rabbit, Guildford, Surrey, UK

Lewis Carroll's grave

Lewis Carroll's Grave, Guildford, Surrey, UK

The last stop on our Alice in Wonderland trail is 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.  After his death, his sisters continued to live at the Chestnuts until 1919.  Coincidentally, his good friend Henry Liddell died four days later.

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.  However, if you’re not feeling energetic, give the cemetery a miss.  It’s a steep trek up the hill to get there!

Discover our round up of the other best things to do in Guildford.

Guildford High Street, Guildford, Surrey, UK

Have you seen Alice in Guildford?  Please feel free to comment below.

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4 comments

Avatar for Jan
Karen Hilary White 2nd April 2023 - 11:58 am

A splendid post about Alice in Guildford. I was there recently to see the Knife Angel but only saw the Through the Looking Glass sculpture and St. Mary’s Church though I did take a wander along the high street to see some of the other historic buildings. If I make a return trip at some point I will definitely seek out the other sculpture.

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Avatar for Jan
Jan 2nd April 2023 - 8:06 pm

We went to see the Knife Angel too. What an amazing sculpture!

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Avatar for Jan
Stefan (Berkeley Square Barbarian) 9th April 2021 - 6:37 pm

Love this sculpture. We like visiting Guildford once every blue moon, usually on some walk or hike.

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Laureen Dixon 1st April 2021 - 4:08 pm

Very interesting – I wasn’t aware of any of this information. Thanks.
Laureen

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