Alice's adventure inside geology

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The Independent Online
A GEOLOGICAL phenomenon which causes the ground to suddenly open up was the most likely inspiration for the subterreanean world of Alice in Wonderland.

Lewis Carroll grew up in an area of Yorkshire famous for its dramatic subsidence and would have drawn on his own experience in describing the rabbit-hole down which Alice made her famous journey.

Tony Cooper, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey, has established convincing links between the gypsum-rich area around Ripon, north Yorkshire, where holes in the ground frequently and suddenly appear, and the children's fairytale. Gypsum is a highly soluble rock and is dissolved under the Ripon area at a rate of up to a foot a year.

Dr Cooper said a house near Ripon, called Ure Lodge, suffered dramatic subsidence in 1834 which left a hole 20 metres (64 feet) deep and 11 metres (35 feet) wide, and the young Dodgson would have almost certainly visited the scene. He also knew of a system of holes called "Hell's kettles", which were described by locals as bottomless pits.

"Lewis Carroll's father was Canon Dodgson of Ripon. A contemporary of his, Canon Badcock lived in Ure Lodge, and was the father of Mary on whose photograph Alice in Wonderland's illustration was based," Dr Cooper told the science festival.