Alice in Cheltenham

Carroll's Characters

Carroll’s Characters

Charles  Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, author of the world-renowned children’s stories ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’, was a regular visitor to Cheltenham while the parents of his friend and acquaintance the Very Revd Henry George Liddell lived in Charlton Kings. The Very Revd Henry was Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, where Charles was a mathematics lecturer, and although himself a Deacon had never gone into the full priesthood. The Liddell parents were the Revd Henry George Liddell (not to be confused with his son) and his wife Charlotte who had retired to Cheltenham in 1861 from their lucrative parish in Easington, County Durham.

The Very Revd Henry’s children, including Alice Pleasance Liddell, her siblings and governess regularly stayed with their grandparents, and while there, Charles visited, staying at the Belle Vue Hotel in Cheltenham, and taking the children and their governess out on expeditions, not dissimilar to those he had conducted around Oxford. From these excursions, it is thought he concocted many of the elements of his children’s books, including the chessboard pattern espied from the top of Leckhampton Hill of the fields below, and encounters with people in a train journey from Cheltenham Lansdown Road station to Oxford, and illusions (i.e. the Cheshire Cat) seen during a show at the Cheltenham Assembly Rooms (now Lloyds Bank on the High Street) conducted by a famous illusionist, Herr Dobler.

Charles Dodgson was also connected to Cheltenham as he was a geometry examiner for the Cheltenham Ladies’ College, then located at Cambray House in Cambray Place, through the Very Revd Henry who was a member of the Cheltenham (Gentleman’s) College Council and as assistant to the senior examiner, Revd James Owen, another Christ Church Oxford graduate. [It is clear that patrimony was alive and well then, in a not dissimilar way to the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat university ‘mafia’ that exists in government].

Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk

Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk

Before we moved to Hanover House in Cheltenham, we lived in Suffolk close to Long Melford – an attractive former wool centre with typical wattle and daub, thatched cottages and a beautiful church, Holy Trinity. The church contains a range of superb stained monuments and stained glass windows, one of the latter representing Elizabeth de Mowbray, Duchess of Norfolk. This particular representation is said to be the inspiration for the Alice in Wonderland illustration of the Duchess, who played a memorable part the story.

Alice's Duchess?

Alice’s Duchess?

Almost as a postscript and linking the above connections with Lewis Carroll and Cheltenham, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson appears on the very outer fringes of my family tree!

As a post postscript, as a total coincidence, just after having published the above comments on Elizabeth de Mowbray, BBC Radio 4 covered in a history programme, the discovery some years ago by workmen of a ‘lost’ grave of a royal personage from the medieval period.    Following the recent coverage of the discovery of Richard III’s remains under a carpark in Leicester, the link was made with the earlier discovery of the earlier find, which was a lead coffin with inscription showing that the remains it contained were of the young Anne Mowbray, daughter and heiress of the Duke of Norfolk. She was the wife of Richard Duke of York, the Richard III to-be and had been betrothed to Richard when she was only 2 and he 4, so that Edward IV’s line could gain the riches of the Dukes of Norfolk, which were very considerable at that time. This was despite the rulings of the Catholic Church concerning on age of betrothal and marriage and of the marriage of close relatives. Dispensations had to be obtained for both, but in the event, Anne died young from reasons unknown, possibly either disease or childbirth.


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