Lewis Carroll in Guildford
The Author Lewis Carroll, under his real name of Charles Dodgson, spent much time in Guildford in the company of his sisters. During a visit to Guildford there are several places you can see that are connected with Lewis Carroll:
- St Mary's Church - where the Rev. Dodgson preached
- Guildford Museum - with memorabilia of Lewis Carroll and Alice
- See The Chestnuts - in private ownership so you cannot go in, but it is close to the Guildford Museum and still standing.
- Alice Through The Looking Glass Statue in the Castle Grounds
- The Statue of Alice with her sister, watching the rabbit go down the hole is in Millmead by the river and opposite Debenhams.
- Lewis Carroll's grave in The Mount Cemetery
- Go on a Lewis Carroll Walk with the Guildford Town Guides in the summer months
You can purchase the book Lewis Carroll in Guildford by Mary Alexander from the Guildford Tourist Information Centre for just £2 .
On 14 August 1868, a youthful-looking clergyman came to Guildford for the first time; he was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, then aged 36, and he was on a house hunting expedition. It is likely he was not recognized then as the already famous author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which had been published three years earlier under the name of Lewis Carroll.
Charles Dodgson had been born in Daresbury in 1832, the eldest boy of eleven children of the Rector. The parsonage was some distance from the village, and the children mostly played amongst themselves. The family moved to Croft in the North Riding in 1843 and Charles went to Rugby School in 1846. He went up to Christchurch, Oxford when he was 19. He took his BA in Mathematics and Classics in 1854 and became a maths tutor at the college. At that time a university teacher was required to become a clergyman, and in 1861 he took deacon's orders to become 'the Reverend Dodgson'. In the summer of 1862 he took the children of the Dean of Christchurch on a boat trip. During this he told little Alice Liddell the story of a girl who followed a white rabbit underground and the adventures that befell her. The story so entranced the child that she asked him to write it down. It was published, with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, in 1865.
The death of his father in June 1868 had left Charles the head of the family, responsible for finding a home for his six unmarried sisters. We do not know for certain why the Dodgsons, a north country family on both sides, should have considered moving to Guildford. The most likely explanation is Lewis Carroll's friendship, dating from their schooldays at Rugby, with the Rev G.R.Portal, rector of Albury, a village about five miles from Guildford. Within a few days the choice was made and by November the Dodgson family had moved into The Chestnuts, a roomy house built about 1861, near the Castle ruins, and some sixty yards from the present museum building. This house remained the family headquarters until the surviving Misses Dodgson gave up the tenancy in 1919. They continued to live in Guildford with some of their nieces, who left the town in 1930 on the death of the last Miss Dodgson, thus ending a Dodgson connection with Guildford of more than sixty years.
Lewis Carroll himself never actually lived in Guildford. He was a don and mathematical lecturer at Christchurch, Oxford, where he had his own rooms and kept his papers and personal belongings. But The Chestnuts was rented in his name, which appears in the rate books as that of the householder, and he had a parliamentary vote in the Guildford constituency. Moreover, as his diaries make clear, he was constantly up and down to Guildford, staying for a few days at a time, and he always spent several weeks at Christmas with the family at The Chestnuts. In fact, sometimes the house was so full he had to stay at one of the hotels in the town.
The household consisted of six Misses Dodgson (one of them later took a house at Brighton on her own), and for several years included Miss Lucy Lutwidge, Lewis Carroll's aunt who had kept house at Croft after the death of Mrs Dodgson. One brother, Skeffington, must have been a frequent visitor for some years while he held curacies in West Surrey. The youngest brother Edwin, also made The Chestnuts his headquarters, while studying for the ministry and when on leave from Tristan da Cunha or missionary work in Zanzibar; it was his home during the early years of the last century. As soon as the nephews and nieces were old enough they too were delighted to come to the family home and all later remembered their visits with pleasure. The house was largely furnished with pieces brought from the old home at Croft, and the cupboards were full of toys and games. All the Dodgsons were fond of children. In their own childhood the eleven brothers and sisters had made their own amusements. Lewis Carroll was particularly good at inventing games and puzzles, and continued to do so until the end of his life. Guildford Museum possesses some cut-out papers dolls with changes of costume, made for a village child at Croft by one of Lewis Carroll's sisters. Many old treasures from their own nursery ended up at The Chestnuts, including a history jigsaw of William IV's time and a 'Wheel of Life' which are usually on display.
Besides the Portals at Albury, the Dodgsons already knew several other families in the neighbourhood. They soon made more friends such as Dr Merriman, the headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, and his family; the Haydons, a banking family, next door, and of course the clergy of the various churches. One of the rarest of Lewis Carroll's writings is the Guildford Gazette Extraordinary, an imitation newspaper in which he gives the text of an elaborate charade acted by the Dodgsons and their friends at Christmas 1869, together with a mock review of the performance. Home-made entertainments of this sort were a great feature of the Dodgson family life. He continued to write and the second Alice book, Through the Looking Glass was completed when he was staying in Guildford in 1871.
Lewis Carroll was a great walker. Even towards the end of his life he would walk twenty or more miles. When in Guildford he was fond of tramping over the downs, and thought nothing of a walk to Farnham across the Hog's Back. It was on one of these walks, on 18 July 1875, that the last line of his nonsense masterpiece The Hunting of the Snark 'came into his head; 'For the Snark was a Boojum you see'. Four days later the remaining three lines of the last verse came to him; the rest of the poem was written in stages during the next six months.
The Misses Dodgson were active in all kinds of church and charitable work, mostly in connection with the nearby St Mary's Church, though one or two of them -and also Edwin Dodgson - attended St Nicolas. Lewis Carroll himself was often invited to preach at St Mary's and his signature is seen many times in the Service Books, together with the text for his sermon. An old Guildfordian, Amos Chalcraft spoke of 'Mr Dodgson' and his sermons and how 'terribly thin' he was.
In 1881 he retired as a lecturer, but continued to live at Christchurch. About 1895 Lewis Carroll's health became less good, perhaps because he never spared himself. On his Christmas visit to The Chestnuts in 1897 he caught influenza, and, in spite of devoted nursing, died on 14 January 1898, a fortnight before his sixty-sixth birthday. After a funeral service in St Mary's Church, he was buried in the cemetery on The Mount, just inside the gates, where his grave and the memorial cross erected by his brothers and sisters can be seen. His aunt, Lucy Lutwidge, and several of his sisters are buried in the same cemetery.