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Call to celebrate life of the 'real Alice'
SHE inspired perhaps the bestknown character in children’s literature and now Hollywood has brought her to life once again, this time in 3D.
Alice Liddell lived in Lyndhurst for more than 50 years and was a major figure in village life, but she’s remembered the world over as the little girl who inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland.
Yet all there is to mark the life of one of Lyndhurst’s most famous villagers is a modest plaque in the graveyard of her local church.
The latest Alice interpretation, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, opened in cinemas across the globe yesterday and is sure to introduce a new generation to the classic novel.
There are now calls for the New Forest capital to celebrate its connection with the story by creating a permanent tribute to Alice.
In an exclusive interview, Alice’s only granddaughter has told the Daily Echo she would support the idea.
Mary Jean St Clair said: “Alice was philanthropic about everything she did in Lyndhurst. She took part in events and tried to help the town, so I’m sure anything that would help the town would be fine.”
Tourism bosses in Oxford are hoping to cash-in on the Walt Disney blockbuster by taking coachloads of tourists on a new Alice tourist trail, which follows different locations connected to the story.
The university city has long claimed to be “the home of Alice”, but the real Alice, who was later to become Alice Hargreaves, spent almost her entire adult life in Lyndhurst.
In 1996, plans were drawn up to decorate the village with sculptures of Alice and some of the book’s other characters. The £60,000 scheme included an Alice obelisk outside the Fox and Hounds pub, Tweedledee and Tweedledum seats and a Cheshire Cat statue.
The idea failed to capture the public’s imagination and was greeted with widespread apathy by locals, many of whom didn’t want to see their village turned into an “amusement park”.
Fourteen years on and attitudes have changed. Lyndhurst Parish Council’s new leader, Mark Rollé, said it was time the village capitalised.
“I think it stems back to the original wishes of the family, they wanted everything to be low key,”
Councillor Rollé told the Daily Echo.
When Alice died in 1934, her relatives asked that she be remembered as a devoted member of the community and the residents of Lyndhurst respected that wish.
Her ashes were buried beside her husband, Reginald Hargreaves, at St Michael and All Angels Church.
Visitors often had trouble finding the family vault, so the church added a plaque.
Only last year, 75 years after she passed away, did Alice start to receive more attention when a yearlong series of community events, including a White Rabbit treasure hunt and Mad Hatter fun run, were held to coincide with the new movie.
Unfortunately the film’s release was delayed by almost a year. The events went ahead nonetheless and reignited village pride in Alice.
The celebrations also received the blessing of Mrs St Clair, who travelled from Gloucestershire to attend the festival launch.
Mrs St Clair said her grandmother was never a celebrity in her time, but enjoyed being feted as the inspiration for Alice.
She only has fleeting memories of meeting her famous grandmother.
“I was only about two or three. I can just remember she was dressed in black, which as a widow in those days I guess you did,” she said.
The family’s Lyndhurst estate, Cuffnells, was converted into an army billet during the Second World War before it was demolished in 1951.
“It was such a shame, it was a really beautiful house. If it was still standing you could have an Alice museum there or all sorts of things,” Mrs St Clair said.
Local historian Angela Trend said Alice played an enormous role in village life, hosting community events and donating generously.
“You look in other places and they have got all sorts of Alice memorabilia, but we don’t really have anything.
It doesn’t seem fitting,” she said.
Apart from paying their respects at her grave, having a bite to eat in the Mad Hatter Tea Rooms and buying a souvenir in the New Forest Visitor’s Centre, there is very little on offer for Alice fans.
It seems staggering, especially when compared with New York’s Central Park, which boasts an 11ft sculpture of Alice and her fictional friends despite having no connection with the novel.
In Warrington and Guildford, where Carroll lived and died, statues commemorate some of the book’s most famous scenes and are a “must” for tourists.
“We should capitalise on it, it can only be a good thing for the village,”
added Cllr Rollé.
“Time will tell what the impact of the film will be, but we have got to strike a balance between being a destination and a working village.”
LIFE OF THE REAL ALICE
THERE were no Cheshire Cats or magical rabbit holes, but Alice Liddell lived a remarkable life in her own right.
To coincide with the release of the new film, the story of the “real Alice” is set to become the subject of two new books.
American author Cathy Rubin, a distant relation of Alice, this week published the first, entitled The Real Alice in Wonderland, pictured.
“Behind every great person there is someone who inspires and believes in them,” Rubin told the Daily Echo.
“That may be a teacher who believes in a struggling student, a parent supporting their child’s gift or a very creative, magnetic little girl who in 1862 helped a brilliant, shy, awkward academic believe in himself and ultimately write the greatest children’s book of all time.”
Alice was one of five daughters of the Dean of Christ Church. She rubbed shoulders with the great and good of the era and was on familiar terms with Queen Victoria.
She even had a chaste romance with the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Leopold, while he was an undergraduate at Oxford.
But she is immortal today because of a fateful summer’s day in 1862 on the River Isis, Oxford, when Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) invented his famous story to entertain Alice and her sisters.
Alice’s fame grew as the book became ever more popular and the debate about the true nature of her relationship with Carroll continues to this day.
“It was not unusual for men like Charles Dodgson to have close platonic relationships with young children, this was Victorian England after all,” Rubin said.
“As a child she helped him become a universally respected literary figure.
I think he felt indebted and completely devoted to her for the rest of his life. If he was in love with her it was unrequited.
“We found absolutely no sign of any inappropriate behaviour when she was a child just an incredible friendship; a unique creative collaboration, a lovely story.”
Alice married Reginald Hargreaves at Westminster Abbey in 1880 and lived much of her adult life at Cuffnells, the family’s 160-acre estate near Lyndhurst.
The couple had a busy social life, hosting balls and shooting parties and opening their grounds for an annual flower festival.
She was the first president of Emery Down Women’s Institute, while her husband played cricket for Hampshire.
Tragically, two of their three sons were killed within a week of each other on the Somme during the First World War.
Struggling to pay for the upkeep of the mansion following the death of her husband, Alice sold the original Alice in Wonderland manuscript in 1928 for the then record sum of £15,400.
Aged 82, she died in November 1934 in Westerham, Kent. Her remains were buried in the Hargreaves family tomb at St Michael and All Angels Church.
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