Daresbury - the birthplace of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll
PUBLISHED: 10:38 23 November 2015 | UPDATED: 10:38 23 November 2015
The surreal story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is now 150 years old. To mark the anniversary we consider its author, Lewis Carroll's connection to the village of Daresbury. Words by Rebekka O'Grady
Tucked behind a busy expressway lies a very important place. To the unsuspecting eye, Daresbury may look like another quaint Cheshire village, but it is here that the dreams and vivid imagination of one of literature’s most well-known voices, Lewis Carroll, came to life.
It all started at All Saints’ Church in the centre of the village. The church has the special distinction of being associated with the celebrated writer as his father, Reverend Charles Dodgson, was the much-loved vicar here for 16 years, from 1827 to 1843. Lewis, then known as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and nine of his ten brothers and sisters were born nearby at the Old Parsonage. This has since been demolished but remains of it can be viewed and it is now known as ‘The Birthplace’ and cared for by the National Trust.
Lewis lived here for the first 11 years of his life, before his father was appointed rector of Croft-on-Tees in Yorkshire. In time he then, of course, rose to fame as the writer of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, when he was a lecturer at Oxford University.
A strong connection still remains between the famous writer and Daresbury, with many people travelling from across the world to visit his birthplace. The church in particular has several features commemorating this, including the recently opened Lewis Carroll Centre.
‘The idea for a Lewis Carroll Centre at Daresbury had been under discussion for at least 20 years,’ explained Stuart Wigley, parish administrator at All Saints’. ‘It was a combination of design and funding issues. However, in 2009 plans started to take shape with the centre then opening in 2012. It had always been a dream so to turn it into a reality was great.’
The circular extension is built in traditional stone to match that of the 12th century building, but it has a modern design in the interior. It is not only a fascinating fund of information about the author’s life and works, it is also used as a community space.
‘We’ve had people visit from South Africa, Japan and America,’ said Myra Fye, PCC secretary. ‘Of course we already had the Lewis Carroll Memorial Window in the Daniell Chapel, but the centre enables visitors to learn more about him and fill that hole of information. However, it was difficult to incorporate a very full life into a few boards!’
Visitors can now gain an insight into the early life of the author in the village, children can play games inspired by his interests (such as mathematics and origami) and admire the beautiful stained glass window. Erected in 1935 to mark the centenary of Carroll’s birth, it was funded by enthusiasts from around the world who donated to a memorial to result in a gift to the church.
‘People come to visit it and will sometimes just see Lewis and Alice in the far left corner,’ explained Myra, who lives in nearby Stockton Heath. ‘However, there is much more to the window reflecting parts of his life.’ From the wheatsheaf of Cheshire, the coats of arms of Rugby School and Christ Church in Oxford to the mathematic instruments representing his academic career, the window is symbolic of all parts of Carroll’s very varied life.
‘It is surprising when people who live around the area say that they didn’t know he was born here,’ said Myra. ‘We want to emphasise the important connection that he was brought up right here, as the son of the vicar of this very church.’ 4
Step down the rabbit hole
Fancy afternoon tea this month? Then there’s no better place than Davenports Tea Room, especially as it is themed around Alice in Wonderland. The multi-award-winning tea room, in Northwich, less than two miles from Daresbury, not only serves traditional afternoon tea in a quirky setting, but also presents special Mad Hatter’s Tea Parties (£29.99pp) on limited dates in celebration of Carroll’s acclaimed story.
‘We want to have the wow factor when people walk in,’ said Olivia Worrell, who has worked at Davenports for seven years. ‘The Mad Hatter parties are great as the whole place is decorated for the occasion and themed characters such as Alice, the Queen of Hearts and the White Rabbit serve the afternoon tea.’
The Mad Hatter events started only a few years ago, but their popularity has seen them become a sell-out every month. It takes place in one sitting, meaning that you can sit back and enjoy an afternoon of delicious treats which include all the traditional aspects of afternoon tea along with fun elements such as Cheshire Cat cupcakes, edible white rabbits, ‘Eat Me’ meringue mushrooms and ‘Drink Me’ drinks complete with a riddle from the Mad Hatter.
‘It’s local food and home-made food at its best,’ said Olivia. ‘This year we’ve had two families travel from far distances to visit us and see Carroll’s birthplace. One family travelled from Tokyo as they had such a fascination with Alice and Lewis.’