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The real Alice in Lyndhurst

Angela Trend, from the Emery Down History Group, uncovers the story of Alice Liddell, who lived in the New Forest for much of her life and inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published 150 years ago.

A well-known local tale tells of two small girls waiting for the service to begin in St Michael and All Angels church, Lyndhurst in the early 1930s. ‘Look’, whispered Bettine Radcliffe’s friend, ‘there’s Alice’. Bettine turned round excitedly, but was surprised to see a little lady in black coming slowly towards her. ‘That’s not Alice’, Bettine said in disappointment. ‘She’s old.’

But unlike the fictional character she inspired, the real Alice did indeed grow old, and did so while living in Lyndhurst in the New Forest for nearly 50 years. Alice Hargreaves, née Liddell, was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass stories.

(Alice Liddell as a child, photographed by Lewis Carroll)

Alice first met Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, at Christ Church College, Oxford, where her father was Dean. Dodgson, a mathematician, became a family friend who loved to entertain the children with stories and games.

Sometimes Carroll took a well chaperoned Alice and two of her sisters on a boat trip and picnic down the river Isis in Oxford, where he entertained the children with jokes and stories.

One hot July day Alice asked for a story, so he invented the tale of a girl called Alice looking for an adventure. The girls loved the story so much that Alice asked Dodgson to write it down for her. Carroll wrote and illustrated the story himself and gave it to her for Christmas 1864 - it was so popular with Alice and her friends that they encouraged him to publish the story.

The Punch illustrator John Tenniel drew the pictures we all know, and the book was launched in November 1865, ready for Christmas. It has never been out of print.

Alice Liddell met the wealthy Reginald Hargreaves from Lyndhurst at Oxford while he was studying. They were married in Westminster Abbey in 1880 and after a long honeymoon in Sussex, Scotland and Spain they came home to the magnificent Georgian mansion Cuffnells, at Swan Green near Lyndhurst.

(Alice Lidell in 1872, aged 20)

Alice told Regi that she hoped ‘Cuffnells would be a real fairyland and a “Wonderland come true to Alice at last”.’ Alice enjoyed painting, music and entertaining and Regi looked after the estate and led the life of a Victorian country gentleman. A keen golfer and cricketer, he played for Hampshire and Lyndhurst and was reputed to have encouraged Lord Londesborough of Northerwood House to turn Swan Green into a cricket pitch.

The couple’s three sons, Alan, Leopold and Caryl, were born at Cuffnells and christened by Dean Liddell at St Michael’s. Alan and Leopold died in the First World War.

(Cuffnells, Alice's home near Lyndhurst. Courtesy of Angela Trend)

The Hargreaves gave generously to local churches, schools and charities and held many fundraising events. Regi was a magistrate, and Alice was the first president of both Emery Down and Bank Women’s Institute and the local Red Cross.

When Alice reached the grand old age of 82 she went to America, where she received an honorary degree from Columbia University during Carroll’s centenary celebrations. She died in 1934 and her grave is in Lyndhurst churchyard.

(Alice's grave at St Michael and All Angels, Lyndhurst. Credit: NWtoo Licensed under CC BY SA 3 via Wikimedia Commons)

Alice’s home Cuffnells became a hotel before being requisitioned and after the war it was demolished. Older villagers can still remember the beautiful gardens, the boating lake, the ‘wilderness’ of specimen trees, the wonderful 33m long orangery, the balcony with magnificent views, the 12 main bedrooms and the ‘Gold Room’ where George III once slept.

2015 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Special events are being planned countrywide, including in the New Forest, Alice’s home. There will be illustrated talks, an exhibition at the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst and activities for all ages and interests.

Watch out in the local press and online for more information on events featuring Alice, the girl who, as she said: ‘Became famous by simply doing nothing’.

(Alice in Lyndhurst painting by Gervase Gregory. Courtesy Angela Trend)

This entry was posted by Matt Stroud on Wednesday 11/03/2015


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