Life of Lewis Carroll in Guildford

Chestnuts – home of Lewis Carroll and his sisters in Guildford

Chestnuts – home of Lewis Carroll and his sisters in Guildford

Fight for your dreams, and your dreams will fight for you. — Paulo Coelho

It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting. — Paulo Coelho

An excellent talk by Mary Alexander, curator of Guildford Museum, on the Life of Lewis Carroll in Guildford, drawing upon his journals.

The Rev Charles Dodgson lived three lives (apart from that as the writer Lewis Carroll), he lived at Christchurch College Oxford, lived in Guildford with his sisters, spent time in Eastbourne on holiday.

Charles Dodgson came from a large family. His father was ordained, as was his grandfather. It was a tradition for the men of the family to go into either the army or the church. Charles Dodgson chose neither, his preferred profession was mathematics at Oxford.

To hold a position at Christchurch it was necessary to be ordained. He also could not marry.

He was very religious and would attend church twice on a Sunday. Not always the same church. Although ordained, he chose not to go into the Church, but he did occasionally preach.

After he was ordained, it was six months before he delivered his first sermon. He was pretty relaxed about it. He made no preparation the night before on the grounds he was too tired. Over breakfast he made a few notes.

He gave a few more sermons over the next few years, then nothing for twenty years.

He noted in his journal that he felt unworthy to enter the church, but intriguingly does not say why. This has opened the door to worthless speculation that too often gets reported as fact.

None of his sermons survive, but he was known as a good story teller, we can therefore only speculate. A contemporary account speaks well of his sermons.

One myth to be knocked on the head: He did not befriend children because he did not get on well with adults. He had an active social life whilst in Guildford. He also had several female friends.

Note: Edward Wakeling (Lewis Carroll researcher and editor of the Dodgson Journals) makes a similar point in a talk he gave a few years previous to the Lewis Carroll Society. Charles Dodgson was a socialite! Edward Wakeling slams biographers for perpetuating myths, for writing what readers wish to hear to sell more copies, for failing to use primary sources, and even when they do, failing to comprehend the context. All very basic for historical research. [see The Real Lewis Carroll]

In his talk Edward Wakeling cites a lovely example from the Dodgson journals relating to St Mary’s (only it was St Mary’s Oxford, not Guildford!):

Dec: 6. (Sun). “Preached at St. Mary’s, at the evening service. One of our Chaplains, the Rev. Sydney Baker, is curate in charge, and had asked for my help. It was indeed a privilege to be thankful for – but a formidable task: I had fancied there would be only a small audience, and the church was full, as well as the West Gallery, and the North one partly filled as well. I took as text Mark IX, 24, and the sermon lasted about 18 minutes.”

The Dodgsons moved to Guildford from Croft in Yorkshire when their father died and the rectory had to be vacated.

Cross given to St Mary's by sisters of Charles Dodgson

Cross given to St Mary's by sisters of Charles Dodgson

His sisters were also active in the Parish, helping with good causes. The brass cross on the altar at St Mary’s is believed to have been given by his sisters. They are known to have given St Mary’s a cross and there is no record of a subsequent cross.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written in Oxford following a story telling for his friend Alice Liddell. Through the Looking-Glass was part written in Guildford.

He liked walking. He would walk to Albury. Or walk to Farnham along the Hog’s Back and return on the train.

His death was sudden and a shock. He took ill with flu, it went to his chest and he never recovered. His funeral was poorly attended. He lies buried in Guildford. His sisters placed a simple white cross on his grave with the words ‘Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) fell asleep Jan. 14, 1898.’

Mary Alexander has written a booklet, Lewis Carroll and Guildford, published by Guildford Museum (July 2010). The front cover is illustrated with Chestnuts, the house a few minutes walk from St Mary’s where Charles Dodgson lived with his sisters.

Mary Alexander was an excellent speaker, knowledgeable on her subject, it was therefore very unfortunate that most of her talk was drowned out by the ringing of the church bells. Pleasant walking to the church, but a headache once inside.

Mary Alexander and Edward Wakeling

Mary Alexander and Edward Wakeling

The talk was followed by Matins. Mary Alexander read the two lessons, Selwyn Goodacre, from the Lewis Carroll Society, gave the sermon.

Selwyn Goodacre spoke of the religious aspect of the life of Charles Dodgson. It was not the odd sermon, or regular attendance at church, it permeated all aspects of his life. Father of Selwyn was ordained and a good friend of Father Somerset Ward. Father Somerset Ward draw religious and spiritual insight from Alice.

I was reminded of Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. Not because his style is similar to Lewis Carroll (as it is not) or that he writes nonsense (as he does not) but the spiritual element of his writing. The Alchemist is a fairy tale of sorts. Alice descends into a dream, Santiago follows his dreams.

Two of the hymns had a Lewis Carroll connection.

Breathe On Me Breath of God, written by Edwin Hatch, father of the three Hatch sisters who were friends of Lewis Carroll. Evelyn Hatch went on to edit the 1933 volume of The Letters of Lewis Carroll. Selwyn met Ethel Hatch many years ago when she was over 100 years old!

All Creatures of Our God and King, written by W H Draper who married one of Lewis Carroll’s friends. Selwyn has written a booklet about Lewis Carroll and W H Draper.

The pulpit from which Mary Alexander gave her talk and Selwyn Goodacre the sermon, is the same pulpit used by Charles Dodgson.

Matins was followed by sherry, which I thought was very kind and generous of St Mary’s.

Members of the Lewis Carroll Society went off to have lunch. I decided to follow the example of Charles Dodgson and took myself for a walk along the River Wey to St Catherine’s Lock.

St Mary's Church

St Mary's Church

St Mary’s is the oldest church in Guildford. The tower dates from around 1050 AD and is the town’s oldest pre-conquest building. Norman columns and arches dominate the interior. Somewhat unusual it is twinned with Holy Trinity Church at the top of the High Street. I thought this was our secular society, churches and parishes having to time share the same vicar, but I learnt this was not the case. When Charles Dodgson was involved with St Mary’s this arrangement existed. I spoke with the Curate who took the service and he told me that the parish had two churches and this arrangement had existed since at least 1699. As well as occasionally preaching at St Mary’s, the funeral of Charles Dodgson also took place in St Mary’s.

Charles Dodgson and his sisters lived at Chestnuts, a house only a few minutes walk from St Mary’s.

Curiouser and Curiouser: A programme of events in Guildford, part of (though extending beyond) the Guildford Summer Festival.

The Lewis Carroll Society meet at places associated with Lewis Carroll.

Serendipity: Little did I know when I took the photo at St Mary’s of Mary Alexander and Charles Wakeling comparing notes, that Charles Wakeling had made a similar point to Mary Alexander on Dodgson Myths in a talk he had given to the Lewis Carroll Society a few years earlier. A talk I literally stumbled upon a few days later! Synchronicity? [see The Real Lewis Carroll]

Also see

Legacy of Lewis Carroll

Tai Chi in the Jabberwocky Maze

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17 Responses to “Life of Lewis Carroll in Guildford”

  1. Lainee Says:

    I did not know any of this about Lewis Carrol…Thanks again, Keith..(((Hugs))))

    Started singing “All Creatures Of Our God and King” when you mentioned it and then started “YouTubing” for a version. Here is an amazing performance of this inspiring song Like the one comment about the video stated…I can’t imagine Heaven without angels singing just like this heavenly Christian choir.

    Love and warm, blue light to you,

  2. Guildford Photographer Says:

    I’ve lived in Guildford my whole life and I had absolutely no idea about any of this. Amazing read.

    John Godwin
    Photographer in Guildford.

  3. MARCO Says:

    Hi can anyone knows if the house can be visited??

    • keithpp Says:

      It is a private house, not open to the public. Possibly by special request. What is so depressing is that when it was for sale the local council was offered the house and declined to buy it. The council could have turned the house into a Lewis Carroll museum. Now they are considering expanding the museum in the Castle grounds which most people find unacceptable to occupy part of the Castle grounds.

  4. Nigel Killick Says:

    Hi Keith’s blog, My name is Nigel Killick and I am the executive producer at an audio website called I’m thinking about doing a programme about Lewis Carroll and his connections to Guildford. I thought that you might be interested in collaborating in a walkabouts audio tour about his life in Guildford and interesting facts that you have obviously researched.

    If you are interested you might like to listen to the link below about a program called Brighton Murder Walks, which I did with the author Douglas d’ Enno. It will hopefully give you a clear idea of the kind of program I would want to make. It would be a walk about interview with your good self around Guildford, explaining how you got interested in Lewis Carroll and his story relating to Guildford.

    Here is the Quick link to the program, just press on the pod logo on our site to listen to the audio program

    Peopletalk is a non-profit group comprising of British and American trained actors, writers, program producers, directors, musicians, and short film and documentary makers. Our creative team’s expertise has been used to provide a diverse free internet audio book, drama and social history documentary site designed to cater for all tastes. Peopletalk’s audience covers 56 countries around the world, via the internet, and our 670,000 downloads are distributed through Apple’s iTunes website ©.

  5. keithpp Says:

    OK, sounds interesting, but I would strongly advise you do not use iTunes, as will rip-off you and your listeners.

    Use bandcamp, this makes listening, sharing, downloading easy and you can easily embed on your own website.

    See for example The Way of the Bow, a meditation on archery, as an example of an audio book on bandcamp.

    • Nigel Killick Says:

      Thank you for your advice but as we are nonprofit and everything on our website is free, we have been up to now been cloned by up to 60 websites around the world. We are quite happy with this as long as people give us total credit on their sites.

  6. keithpp Says:

    Which is why it is vital to use bandcamp as it will give you credit, it is free for you to use, On your bandcamp page, link to your main website.

  7. keithpp Says:

    I have already said ok. It would have to be the spring or summer, and it would not be on iTunes. I have no wish to support a site that rips people off.

    • Nigel Killick Says:

      Okay, I will be in touch hopefully in this spring or summer.

    • Nigel Killick Says:

      I would be very interested if you could elaborate on why you think iTunes is ripping people off and this whole idea. As I am intrigued because I have not heard these types of comments about iTunes before and obviously I would like to investigate it.
      With regards Nigel Killick peopletalk. Thank you for your help in this matter.

  8. keithpp Says:

    ITunes is part of a huge corporation, it exists to make big bucks. The artists get a pittance.

    Contrast with bandcamp which was designed as a platform for artists.

    Bandcamp only takes a cut of 17% for anything sold.

    For on-line listening, sharing, downloading, I am baffled why anyone keeps trying to reinvent thee wheel with their own cumbersome media players, lofi sound, pain in the neck download.

    That is the other advantage of bandcamp, high quality sound, able to listen to entire album, not a few seconds lofi samples on iTunes.

    It is also has very good bandwidth, ie fast.

    I continue to be baffled why anyone chooses inferior alternatives.

    But yes you are correct, few are aware.

    Follow the links, lay around with bandcamp, and you will see for yourself.

    • Nigel Killick Says:

      Thank you for your quick response and I can see if you’re selling products and being charged on iTunes, you might consider them profiteering. But for podcaster like myself, there is no charge from iTunes for distributing our podcasts to the world. So it’s a good solution for us as we are non-profitmaking.

      I am intrigued by bandcamp, are you in any way involved with this company? As I have lots of actor, directors and producer friends, who might be interested in selling there creative works through this site?

      Thanks again for the information and keep up the good work with your blog. With regards Nigel Kilick at peopletalk.

  9. keithpp Says:

    One huge benefit for you on bandcamp. You can have 200 free downloads per month, but you can also have, pay what you like, which will go straight into your paypal account. And, every time someone pays, that ups your free download limit.

  10. keithpp Says:

    No, I am in no way associated with bandcamp. I have used it and been very impressed. Musicians who use it are also very impressed. It is putting a lot of money direct into the pockets of grass roots musicians. There is nothing else comparable.

    This month bandcamp has exceeded $30 million into the pockets of grass roots musicians.

    Bass player Steve Lawson is a very strong advocate of bandcamp.

    Yes, you can be on iTunes, but you are there as bait to pull the punters in. There is no registration to listen or share music on bandcamp. Unlike spotify, it does not follow the facebook model of violation of personal privacy.

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