Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-98) was a mathematics don at Oxford University who loved word play and puzzles as much as he did the study of Euclid. But then, Dodgson was a young man of many and diverse talents - and something of an enigma himself.

A skilful pioneer of photography, Dodgson was one of the first to create personal portraits - his work being much sought after by such fashionable luminaries as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Daniel Rossetti, John Millais, and Ellen Terry. 

But, despite having many adult friends with whom he often visited art galleries and the theatre, the unmarried clergyman also enjoyed the less complicated friendships that he had with younger children - if not so much the company of the boisterous male pupils found when Dodgson was once employed as a school teacher.

In 1856, Dodgson was to write in his diary: "School...again noisy and troublesome...I have not yet acquired the arts of keeping order."

One can imagine the nervous young man being mocked by all the thoughtless boys, especially as he was said to have a tendency to stammer his words.

At Oxford he sought a quieter life, mingling with the families of fellow clerics and dons while applying himself to research and study. He published many mathematical textbooks. He wrote plays and political essays discussing matters such as voting theories in The Principles of Parliamentary Representation.

Also, while at Oxford, he often mingled socially with the children of his fellow academics. This led to some strong attachments being formed on the part of Dodgson, about which the spectre of doubt often arises regarding his motivation. However,  the VV is keen to stress that there is no actual evidence that he was ever influenced by anything more sinister than the fact that he was a sensitive man, perhaps overly fixated on his own innocent childhood years.

Such friendships inspired Dodgson to write his  'nonsense' poems, such as  Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark - and, as most of us well know, his fantasy: Alice in Wonderland.

By 1865, the original handwritten version of Alice's Adventures Underground had been reworked and expanded from 15,000 - 27,500 words. It was published by Macmillan and Co under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, though the author's own illustrations, which were not without some merit, were replaced by those of John Tenniel, a far more accomplished artist who was already famous for his work with Punch magazine.

Tenniel and Dodgson had a somewhat strained relationship, with the artist regularly complaining that the author was meddlesome and demanding regarding the precision of his work. But then, Tenniel was not averse to making complaints himself. The first 50 books to be printed were swiftly withdrawn from sale when he claimed to be dissatisfied with the quality of reproduction. Those rejected copies were distributed to children's hospitals and institutions, of which 23 copies still survive. They are known as the '1865 Alice'.

The phenomenal success of Alice in Wonderland  was followed in 1871 by Alice through the Looking Glass. By then, even Queen Victoria had written personally to the author to say how much she enjoyed his work.

But, in addition to his fantasies, she and Dodgson also shared a mutual interest in the spirit world. (The widowed Queen was fascinated by cult of spiritualism - even engaging mediums or seances in the royal homes, in the hope of making contact with her deceased husband, Prince Albert.)

Dodgson was a founder member of the Society for Psychical Research and (despite some claims that he may have been unduly influenced in his faith by the frequent use of hallucinogens) he firmly believed that the human mind was able to perceive other realms in which our spirits might live on. He also had complete confidence that scientific developments would one day enable living men to 'speak' with the dead beyond 'the veil'. 

In fact, much of his inspiration seems to have come from a far more down to earth source, with characters and themes in the Alice books reflecting people and places familiar to Dodgson's upbringing and subsequent academic life at Oxford University - all of which were so skilfully woven into a convincing, alternative 'whole'.

Tenniel's rendition of Alice

The character of Alice was based on Alice Liddell and has been discussed in detail in a previous post, THE REAL ALICE  IN WONDERLAND.


It has been suggested that the Cheshire Cat was inspired by ecclesiastical stone carvings, such as those at St Wilfred's church near Warrington where Dodgson's father was a rector. At a nearby mediavel church - St Christopher's at Pott Shrigley - a grinning cat can be seen carved into an outside wall. There is also a gargoyle at St Nicholas, Cranleigh, where Dodgson was once known to worship.

But, Dodgson was not the first to use the description of a 'grinning cat'. One was mentioned in 1795, in Pindar's Lyric Epistles - 'Lo, like a Cheshire cat our court will grin.'

The city of Chester, which once had cheese warehouses on the banks of the river Dee, was said to be full of cats which had ample hunting with mice and rats and were, therefore, very happy. In the Cheshire village of Daresbury, cheeses were moulded into animal shapes - one of which was a grinning cat. And then, the British Blue breed of cats are known for their 'smiling' expressions, and that breed was said to have originated in Cheshire.

The White Rabbit is said to be based on Alice Liddell's father. As Dean of Christ's Church, Oxford, Henry Liddell was known for being late, often looking anxious while consulting the time on his fob watch. 

A narrow twisting staircase behind Christ Church's main dining hall was called the rabbit hole. This is confidently said to be the place that inspired the dark tunnel through which Alice was to fall when following the rabbit into Wonderland.

As far as the Hatter is concerned, the term 'as mad as a hatter' derives from a hazard of the trade in which mercury was often used in the processing of felt which was used in the lining of hats. Mercury poisoning could cause tremors and peculiar speech patterns, sometimes even hallucinations.

In Oxford, it was generally held that Tenniel's Hatter was a caricature of the local merchant, Theophilus Carter - a decidely eccentric man very rarely seen without his top hat.

Tenniel surely based his depiction of the Duchess on this 16th century painting by Massys, an imagined portrait of the Countess Margarete Maultasch who lived in the 1300's - and was notoriously ugly!

Some critics insist that the Queen of Hearts is based on Queen Victoria. But, Victoria enjoyed the Alice books. Would she really have been so amused by such an unpleasant caricature, or was she simply much too vain to notice the resemblance? 



Doctor William Price was a scholar and surgeon who gained fame at the age of 84 when cremating his dead baby son on the side of a Welsh mountain. 

A charismatic and charming young man, Price socialised as easily with the Welsh working class people among whom he grew up, as he did with the wealthier London elite met while he studied medicine. Being a talented student, at the age of only 21 he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. 

When returning home to work in Wales be became very much involved in the Chartist movement, and also did a great deal to improve the health of the local workers - being very much against smoking, and keen on natural medicines, with a healthy diet (vegetarian here), and plenty of open air exercise. Such pioneering practice in a social healthcare system went on to have great influence on the views of Aneurin Bevan.

One of the earliest feminists, Price believed in Free Love in relationships and the abolition of marriage. He was also very much immersed in alternative religious faiths - studying Hinduism, Greek Mythology, as well as Egyptology, not forgetting the cult of Druidism that was very popular indeed in the Welsh Victorian era.

At this time there was a rising fear that the country may lose its identity and, inspired by the work and faith of the Druid, lolo Morganwg, Price hoped to encourage interest in the Welsh culture, language and history. (This was also the era when Lady Charlotte Guest was translating The Mabinogion to English, with competitive eisteddfods run to encourage the arts and the spoken word.)

Price believed the land’s many standing stones were places of spiritual worship and hoped to created his own ‘temple’ at the summit of a mountain overlooking the town of Pontypridd. When attempts to raise £10,000 to build a great museum failed, he refused to doubt his mission, especially after making a visit to the Louvre in Paris - after having been forced to flee to France when involvement with Chartists’ rioting placed him at risk of imprisonment.

At the Louvre he was said to have viewed a 2,000 year old Greek Stone, and believed that he could understand every one of its engravings, claiming that the stone had ‘spoken’ to him of his future as a ‘bard of the moon’, whose first born son would then become the Messiah of the Druid faith.

Back in Wales again, from around the age of 40, Pryce became yet more unconventional in his dress as well as his beliefs. Growing his black hair down to his shoulders and also wearing a long beard, he dressed in flamboyant outfits, often coloured emerald green, and wore a crown upon his head that was made from the body of a fox.

At the age of 71, having fathered three daughters, but still no son, he went to practice medicine in the medieval hilltop market town of Llantrisant. It was there, at the age of 83 that he met a young woman, Gwenllian Llewellyn, who was almost 60 years his junior, and who - despite all previous statements of not agreeing with marriage - he then went on to marry in a pagan open air ceremony, at which three women friends appeared as The Three Graces.

The longed for son was born to them on August 8, 1883 and was named as lesu Grist Price (the Welsh version of Jesus Christ). When that child then sadly died from a convulsion at only 5 months old, his father attempted to perform a cremation on East Carlen hill.

No doubt he had been influenced by the Hindu cremation ceremonies, and stories of ancient druids who were also said to burn their dead. But, ever the social activist, Price was very much aware of the growing movement in Great Britain for people to chose cremation ceremonies over traditional burials: an option then illegal.

There was a great deal of outrage and also suspicion that the child may even have been murdered, with Price only attempting to destroy any evidence of the crime. Crowds gathered and the corpse was taken away before the flames could devour it. A sensational court case followed on where Price defended himself and claimed:

“It is not right that a carcass should be allowed to rot and decompose in this way. It results in a wastage of good land, pollution of the earth, water and air, and is a constant danger to living things.

After being found not guilty, Price demanded his child’s body back, and while his wife kept a mob at bay with pistols and Irish wolfhounds (that, the VV would have liked to see!) the cremation was finally performed, after which Price erected a 60 foot pole with a moon symbol on top of it, as a token of remembrance.

The event was a cause celebre which went on to greatly influcence a law that was passed in 1902, to legalise cremation. Meanwhile, Price fathered two more children, another son and then a daughter until, at the age of 92, he stood at his doorway one day and announced, “I will lay on on my couch and I shall not rise again.” When his wife tried to give him some cider to drink he demanded to have champagne instead, and while he sipped away at that Price peacefully passed away.

Following her husband’s death, on January 31 1893, Gwenllian ordered 9 tonnes of coal to be delivered to the summit of East Caerlan. There a great iron grid was built to hold the coffin. 20,000 tickets were sold to those who wished to view the cremation, with many of those spectators coming dressed in full Welsh costume, with an almost carnival atmosphere.

Price’s daughter, Penelopen Elizabeth grew up to devote herself to promoting the Cremation Society of Great Britain. In 1947 she unveiled a statue of her father in the Welsh town of Llantrisant.


Dylan Thomas’ short story, The Baby Burning, is said to be based on these true events.

The film in this link , and also shown embedded in the post below, was based on this story, and was created by Matt Brodie as part of his senior thesis at Emerson College.

Also with thanks to www.llantrisant.net