Monday, 19 April 2010

Alice in Oxford

I'm very behind with my blogging, this is from 2 weeks ago!

The redecorating of the hall is in progress and currently a complete mess. The things that normally live in this area are strewn around the house, as are the decorating materials. I’m totally fed-up with the mess and muddle. The sooner the task is finished, the better. Despite the glorious sunshine last weekend, we agreed that the best thing to do would stay be to home and get on with it - so we went out to enjoy the beautiful Spring weather.

We parked just outside the city centre and walked to the start of our ‘walk’. Our route took us over Magdalen Bridge, were we paused to look over the parapet expecting to see the punts, but instead we found these rowing boats. They are very pretty but the punts are more traditional.

We continued down High Street but turned into the still cobbled Merton Street. Because the entrance of the road was closed to vehicles, this normally quiet road was virtually deserted (a vintage bus bringing guest to a wedding and a couple of disable badge holders were given access). Before we reached Blue Boar Street, we could hear the unmistakable sound of Morris dancers. There were several troops taking it in turns to dance while the others watched and enjoyed a glass of beer. It might have been fun to join them for a while, but we have seen Morris dancing many times and we had different plans for the day. We weren’t exactly late but we didn’t have time to linger.

We knew roughly were to go, but we wanted a get a guide leaflet to finalise our route and gain more information about what to look out for and I knew just the place to find one.

I don’t know if it is always this popular, or whether the recent release of Tim Burton’s film has generated new interest, but the little shop was packed with tourists. We quickly found what we wanted and set off our tour.

Incidentally, see the window above the red door and windows of Alice’s shop, behind that window is the very table where I proposed to my DH.

We retraced our steps up St Aldate’s to Tom Gate, the main entrance to Christchurch College, only to find that there is no public access via this gate and had to retrace our steps again, down St Aldate’s, to the gates to Christchurch Meadow then through the War Memorial Garden to the visitor’s entrance.

Sadly, the Great Hall was closed for a private function so we were not able to see Alice’s window but we did get to see the wonderful vaulted roof of the stone staircase which leads up to the Great Hall. Although the staircase is 16th century, the roof was added 150 years later. Many scenes of the Harry Potter films are shot in Christchurch College and it is on this staircase that Harry and his new friends are greeted by Professor McGonagall on their arrival at Hogwart’s.

From this angle, I think the columns and ceiling look like giant toadstools!

There are two Alice related things to see in the Cathedral, both stained glass windows. In the top right hand panel of the St Frideswide window (St Frideswide is patron Saint of Oxford) there is a depiction of the Binsey Treacle Well which will crop up again at the end of our tour.

To the right of the alter is the Edith Liddell memorial window. This window depicts St Catherine; her face is said to be a portrait of Edith, sister of Alice Liddell.

Tom Quad (the Great Quad) is the biggest quadrangle in Oxford.

Lewis Carroll’s rooms were in the upper floor in the corn of the quad to the right of Tom Tower.

As we were leaving Christchurch College, a custodian spotted our Alice Pamphlet and engaged us in conversation. A self confessed aficionado, he told us many things about Lewis Carroll that we had not heard before. I knew his real name is Charles Dodgson, but not that his pseudonym is derived from the Latin for his own name, Charles Lutwidge (even though I knew that my own name is derived from the name Charles!). I knew that Alice was modelled on a real person (Alice Liddell) but not the most, if not all, of Dodgson’s characters are based on people he knew. The Dodo is himself (Dodgson had a speech impediment that made it difficult for him to say his surname, so he referred to himself as Dodo. The Mad Hatter was based on a local hat maker who had a habit of sticking bills into his hat band so as not to misplace them but would promptly forget he had place them there and would search frantically for the lost bill. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice is in a shop owned by a Sheep. This character is based on a shopkeeper with a bleating voice. The shop, 83 St Aldate’s is now Alice’s Shop were we began our tour. The three sisters who live at the bottom of the Treacle well are the Liddell sisters; Lacie (an anagram of Alice), Elsie (LC, Lorina Charlotte) and Tillie (Edith’s pet name). How wonderful it would have been to tour the college with the custodian but he was on duty at the exit and we were running out of time.

We returned to our car via Merton Walk and the lovely Christchurch Meadow, then drove to our final destination, the Treacle Well in St Margaret’s Church yard, Binsey. Treacle is a medieval term for healing fluid.

Susan, of Plays with Needles is currently stitching an Alice in Wonderland block. Seeing her work reminded me that Alice was conceived in my home town and inspired to go and seek her out. I hope that you have enjoyed this short tour of Alice's Oxford.


Front Range Stitcher said...

Oh it's just fabulous. Thank you for posting all about your Alice, I very much enjoyed the tour!

Rachel said...

Lovely to see Oxford looking so good - Thank you for a lovely tour!

Sue said...

Looked like you really enjoyed your tour. Thank you for letting us shae with you lovely day. Sue XX

Plays with Needles said...

I absolutely LOVED my tour!!! Oh, I do hope I get to come visit some day.

Those columns really did look like mushrooms and I would love to see St. Aldate's one day.

I think it's awfully sweet that you proposed on the second floor of Alice's shop!! Thanks so much for this tour of Alice's Oxford. xoxo Susan

Angelcat said...

Wonderful pictures. I enjoyed touring Oxford with you :)