Sunday 22 February 2015

Alice's Adventures in ... Llandudno?

After an absence of ten years, I recently moved back to a village just outside the Welsh seaside town of Llandudno. At first the town seemed much the same as I remembered. And then I walked around a corner and bumped into this ...

The White Rabbit

... an enormous wooden statue of Alice in Wonderland's White Rabbit, which seemed a little bit random to say the least! But I did some research and found out that these carved wooden characters from the famous book by Lewis Carroll appear all around Llandudno as part of the Alice in Wonderland Trail. Alice herself waits outside the railway station and The Queen of Hearts is located close to one of my favourite Italian restaurants. But the one I like best is The Hatter, who can be seen gazing up at the Great Orme from the Promenade.

The Hatter

So what is the connection between this Victorian seaside town and one of the most famous children's classics of all time?

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, more famously known as Lewis Carroll, was a clergyman and mathematics don at Oxford University. He had written stories from a very young age but he was inspired to write Alice's Adventures in Wonderland while taking the three eldest daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College (Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell) on a boat trip up the river to Godstow. During this trip Dodgson told the girls a story, which would later become Alice's Adventures Underground. In 1864 he presented this story as a handwritten manuscript, complete with his own illustrations, to Alice Liddell as a Christmas gift, "In memory of a summer's day". A longer version was finally published in 1865 as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel.

St Tudno Hotel
There is no evidence that Dodgson ever visited Llandudno. However, in 1861 the Liddell family (the Dean, his wife, their five children and various servants) visited Llandudno during the Easter holidays. They stayed at the Tudno Villa lodging house (now known as St Tudno Hotel) on North Parade and must have enjoyed themselves for the following year they came back to Llandudno, this time staying at St George's Hotel over on West Shore, before the Dean commissioned a  mock gothic house to be built there in 1862, which he named Penmorfa. The Liddells visited their new second residence regularly, during Easter, summer and Christmas holidays, and entertained many distinguished guests, including William Gladstone and Matthew Arnold.

Much has also been made of the family's friendship with Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria. He matriculated at Christ Church College in 1872 and often visited the Liddell family at the Deanery in Oxford. In 1873, Prince Leopold paid a secret visit to Llandudno and stayed at the Imperial Hotel - but why? There was at least one occasion where Prince Leopold had taken Alice Liddell on a boat trip along the river at Oxford. Did they have a secret romance in Llandudno? We'll never know but later, after they had both married other people, Alice named her second son Leopold - and Prince Leopold called his daughter Alice ...

Penmorfa was sold in 1873, later to become part of the Gogarth Abbey Hotel. Despite a huge local campaign, the house was sadly demolished in 2008.

These wooden statues are not the first to commemorate Alice's connection with Llandudno. In 1933 a marble statue of the White Rabbit standing beside a hollow tree stump was unveiled by the former Prime Minster, David Lloyd George, at West Shore close to Penmorfa. Alice Liddell was invited to the unveiling but by now she was 84 years old and unable to attend. She wrote "I still have the happiest memories of Penmorfa, as my father's house at Llandudno was called then, and of the rambles over the Great Orme's Head and among the Llandudno sand hills. I wish I could come personally in gratitude for those joyous days, and for the days spent with Mr Dodgson."

Sadly this marble statue was vandalised over the years. The poor White Rabbit lost his ears and paws - even a steel dome cage around the statue couldn't save it. Eventually the statue was taken into the care of Conwy Council for repair and is awaiting relocation to a more secure and central site.

The Queen of Hearts

I've lived in Wales for 12 years but I was born in Hampshire. My books are based in a fictional area based on the New Forest and, in one of those weird coincidences, Alice Liddell also spent most of her life living in the New Forest following her marriage to Hampshire cricketer, Reginald Hargreaves. She died in 1934 and her ashes were interred in the graveyard of the parish church of St Michael and All Angels in Lyndhurst.

Dodgson went on to write a sequel, Through the Looking Glass, and continued to teach at Christ Church until his death in 1898. Although he always said that the character of Alice was not based upon any one child, the epilogue for Through the Looking Glass is a poem, in which the first letter of each line spells out Alice's full name: Alice Pleasance Liddell.


  1. Those are wonderful statues! Llandudno has just been added to our touring list so we can see them!
    Have you seen the Royal Ballet's production of Alice? It was broadcast to cinemas and is fantastic in every sense of the word.

    1. They are great statues, Stephanie! I keep finding more every time I visit Llandudno. Yesterday I spotted the Cheshire Cat over on West Shore - close to where Penmorfa used to be. And I would have loved to have seen the Royal Ballet perform Alice! x

  2. Lovely blog, Louise. We moved to Llandudno two years ago, thus fulfilling a lifelong dream for me. Best place in the world! Have you seen Tweedledee and Tweedledum yet? They are in Haulfre Gardens.

    1. Thank you, Susanna! We've lived here before, about twelve years ago, but have recently moved back to the area. Until I saw these statues I had no idea of the Alice in Wonderland connection. I haven't seen Tweedledee and Tweedledum yet - I'm waiting for the weather to warm up before I do a full exploration! I've found Alice, the Hatter, the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat so far! x