It is time now to return to the world beyond Christ Church through the turnstile gate into that piece of country in the town: Christ Church Meadow. Here undoubtedly the Liddell children walked and played with their governess, a Miss Prickett. Mary Prickett was the daughter of the Trinity College butler and lived in nearby Floyd Row (down St Aldate’s beside the police station). Later she married Charles Foster, a ðrosperous wine merchant with premises at 3 St Aldate’s Street. He was also landlord of the Mitre Hotel in the High. The Fosters lived there and Mary was the proprietress of the hotel.
Walk down the avenue to the river and, looking to your right, you will see Salter’s Boatyard at Folly Bridge from where Dodgson would have hired rowing boats to take the Liddell children to Nuneham Courtney and Godstow.
On 10th March 1863, the day of the wedding of the Prince of Wales, Dodgson recorded in his diary:
“I went into the Broad Walk to see the three Deanery children plant trees along the Cherwell in memory of the day. Each delivered a short speech over her tree: ‘Long life to this tree, and may it prosper from this auspicious day’, and they named them Alexandra, Albert and Victoria.”
Perhaps those trees are still there along the bank of the Cherwell... In the evening Dodgson took Alice out around the town to see the illuminations in honour of the royal wedding.
You can take a motor launch from Salter’s Boatyard to Abingdon (returning by boat or bus) and on your way see the grounds of Nuneham Park. Here, Alice (then Alice Hargreaves) recalled trips like the one made on 17th June 1862 when Dodgson and his friend Robinson Duckworth took the two Dodgson sisters and the three Liddell girls on the river:
“When we went on the river for the afternoon with Mr Dodgson, which happened at most four or five times every summer term, he always brought out with him a large basket full of cakes, a kettle, which we used to boil under a haycock, if we could find one. On rare occasions we went out for a whole day with him, and then we took a large basket with luncheon — cold chicken, and salad and all sorts of good things. One of our favourite whole-day excursions was to row down to Nuneham and picnic in the woods there, in one of the huts (which still survives) specially provided by Mr Harcourt for picnickers.”
Now direct your steps to the east exit from the Meadow and walk toward the High up Rose Lane.
Turn right and go into the Botanic Garden. This is the oldest physic garden n Europe after those in Pisa and Leyden and is a fascinating and beautiful place to visit.
Here Dodgson walked with Isa’s younger sister Maggie:
Next day they entered with her guide
The garden called ‘Botanic’,
And there a fierce Wild Boar she spied,
Enough to cause a panic.
But Maggie didn't mind, not she,
She would have faced, along,
That fierce wild boar, because, you see,
The thing was made of stone.
The stone statue of the boar has been removed and is now only a vague memory.
When you drag yourself away from the pleasures of the Botanic Garden, cross the High to Magdalen College. Here first look for this gargoyle on the west end of Magdalen chapel.
In Isa’s journal the AAM and Isa ‘saw at the top of the wall in one comer... a very large, jolly face, carved in stone, with a broad grin, and a little man at the side, helping him to laugh by pulling up the corner of his mouth for him. Isa thought that, the next time she wants to laugh, she will get her younger sisters (Nellie and Maggie) to help her. With two people to pull up the corners of your mouth for you, it is as easy to laugh as can be.’
Wander on to the deer park where Alice Liddell will often have seen the deer, even if she never put her arm around the neck of one of them.
Isa’s adventures in Magdalen were, according to Dodgson, less innocent:
Isa Bowman and the AAM went into Magdalen Meadow “which has a pretty walk all round it, arched over with trees; and there they met a lady ‘from Amurrica’, as she told them, who wanted to know the way to Addison’s Walk, and particularly wanted to know if there would be ‘any danger’ in going there. They told her the way and that most of the lions and tigers and buffaloes, round the meadow, were quite gentle and hardly ever killed people; so she set off, pale and trembling, and they saw her no more: only they heard her screams in the distance, so they guessed what had happened to her.”
From Magdalen College walk up the High Street, thinking about the Hatter for a moment. Some say that he was based on Mr Theophilus Carter, a furniture dealer with a shop in the High. Mr Carter always wore a top hat and was full of eccentric inventions like an alarm bed that flung the sleeper onto the floor to awaken him which had been on show at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Turn down Long Wall and as you walk try to unravel one of Dodgson’s logic problems:
The Rule of Three
It takes ten men ten days to build a wall, how long would it take 300,000 men?
The answer: The wall would go up like a flash of lightning, but most of them men could not have got within a mile of it.
Why should a sum which can be worked out mathematically fail when it comes into contact with mere details of fact?
Turn left into Holywell Street which leads you to ‘the Broad’. Here, passing the Clarendon Building and Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre, you come to the Old Ashmolean Building. Admire it. It is considered one of the finest 17th century buildings in Oxford.
Designed by Thomas Wood (probably with some advice from Wren) and built in 1679-83, although it resembles a town house, it held the original Ashmolean Museum and the first chemistry laboratory in England. Since 1924 it has housed the History of Science Museum in which among the displays is Charles Dodgson’s photographic equipment.
Retrace your steps as far as King’s Arms and turn into Parks Road. Isa and the AAM went into the gardens of Wadham College (built m 1613), where there was a school treat going on. ‘The treat was first marching round the gardens — then having a photograph done of them all in a row — then a promise of Punch and Judy, which wouldn’t be ready for twenty minutes so Isa and Co wouldn’t wait.’
On the left of Parks Road are the gates of Trinity College gardens. Isa found that they were not ‘real’ gates but all done in one piece, and she and the AAM couldn’t open them, ‘even if you knocked all day’. Isa thought them ‘a miserable sham’.
The trail now leads to the University Museum in search of the Dodo. The Museum is housed in a wonderful building.
Museum! Loveliest building of the plain
Where Cherwell winds towards the distant main;
How often have I loitered o’er your green,
Where humble happiness endeared the scene!
(from Dodgson’s The Deserted Park, May, 1867)
It is not the place of this booklet to tell more about this building than that two of its main creators were John Ruskin (who taught Alice Liddell drawing) and Sir Henry Acland who were both students of Dean Liddell. The Liddells therefore would have followed with great interest the buikling of the Museum and its opening in 1860 when Alice was eight years old.
When the children went there with Dodgson he had tales to tell about the stuffed animals and they would have seen the sad remains of the Dodo brought to Oxford in 1683 with the Tradescant Collection — the main part of which is on display in the Ashmolean Museum. (You remember Dodgson’s nickname of the Dodo.) But you may decide that Òenniel’s Dodo is more like the painting in the Ashmolean than the one in the University Museum.
Here is the University Museum Isa quite lost her heart to a charming stuffed gorilla that smiled on her from a glass case… The most curious thing they saw there was a ‘Walking Leaf’, a kind of insect that looks exactly like a withered leaf.
Now wander along Parks Road to the University Parks. The word ‘Parks’ in Oxford, as the AAM pointed out to Isa, does not mean ‘parks of grass, with trees and deer, but parks of guns; that is, great rows of cannons, which stood there when King Charles the First was in Oxford, and Oliver Cromwell wax fighting against him.’ In fact, now it does mean parks of grass with trees — and sports fields. As you view the cricket pavilion, think over Charles Dodgson’s angry attack on it:
Admist thy bowers the tyrant’s hand is seen,
And rude pavilions sadden all your green;
One selfish pastime grasps the whole domain,
And half a fiction swallows up the plain;
Adown thy glades, all sacrificed to cricket,
The hollow-sounding bat now guards the wicket;
Sunk are thy mounds in shapeless level all,
Lest aught impede the swiftly rolling ball’
And, trembling, shrinking from the fatal blow,
Far, far away thy hapless children go.
Funds even beyond the miser’s wish abound, And rich men flock from all the world around. Yet count our gains. This wealth is but a name, That leaves our useful products still the same. Not so the loss. The man of wealth and pride Takes up a space that many poor supplied; Space for pavilions and for scorers’ tents; The ball, that raps his shins in padding cased, Has worn the verdure to an arid waste; His Park, where these exclusive sports are seen, Indignant spurns the rustic from the green; While through the plain, consigned to silence all, In barren splendour flits the russet ball.
(The Deserted Parks, May 1867)
Dodgson’s poem, which he circulated around college Common Rooms, helped to stop the cricket ground being made in 1867, but not when the project was raised again in 1879.