GUILDFORD: Alice Through The Looking-Glass

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One of the delights of city life is the clash of the unexpected, the pleasure that comes from chancing upon a 17th-century cottage tucked away behind the shopping precinct. Sometimes the unexpected arises from unlikely associations between people and places. The bohemian born and brought up in suburbia, the landscape artist from the slums, the snob born on the wrong side of the tracks. Or Lewis Carroll's strong links with Guildford.

Rather like Slough or Basingstoke, Guildford is one of those places that cause the ignorant to adopt a Lady Bracknell tone of voice. "Guildford! What on earth is there in Guildford?"

Rather a lot, actually: three splendid churches close to the city centre, one of the most attractive high streets in Britain, a cathedral, the keep of a medieval castle and riverside walks. Plus the remains of Lewis Carroll, who was buried there in January 1898.

Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was an Oxford don who publishedAlice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865. Three years later his father died, and the 36-year-old Dodgson had to find a new home for his six unmarried sisters.

He chose Guildford because it offered convenient rail access to Oxford and because he liked walking in the Surrey countryside. In 1868, he leased the Chestnuts in Castle Hill, a 16-room residence close to the ruins of the castle. Although Dodgson lived in Oxford, he spent Christmases, holidays and many weekends in Guildford, sometimes preaching at the nearby church of St Mary's.

In 1871, Through the Looking-Glass was published, and five years later his nonsense masterpiece, The Hunting of the Snark - polishing up the lines on his Guildford walks.

It was on his Christmas visit to the Chestnuts in 1897 that he caught influenza, and he died the next month. After a funeral service at St Mary's, he was buried in the new cemetery on The Mount, which is reached after a tough uphill climb of the sort that he himself would have appreciated.

Much of the Guildford that Carroll knew and loved survives. The Chestnuts remains intact and its memorial plaque sports figures from Alice. Both his grave and St Mary's can be visited, as can the local museum, which contains much Carroll material.

One of the most touching memorials is this modern sculpture by Jeanne Argent, erected in 1990 in the Castle Grounds, near the back garden of the Chestnuts. It shows Alice making her way through the looking-glass and reminds us of the zany streak that is to be found even in apparently conventional places such as Guildford.

Andrew John Davies

Alice Through The Looking-Glass is on the eastern side of Castle Gardens, Guildford.

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