One of the most famous little shops in the world can be found in Oxford just across the road from Christ Church College. The Alice’s Shop in Oxford is world famous because the shop itself was written into the Alice adventures over 150 years ago. The small shop was dubbed “Alice’s Shop” locally as soon as the stories became well known, even as it continued as a grocery shop. Since the mid-60s, the shop began to sell Alice in Wonderland souvenirs.The Shop is now a treasure trove of Alice in Wonderland themed gifts, souvenirs and memorabilia. Alice’s Shop is one of the most tangible links to an entire episode in the Alice in Wonderland adventures and offers lovers of the stories a moment of intimate connection with the World of Alice as well as an insight into Carroll’s creation.
The Story of Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll
In the 1850s a shy and retiring Oxford professor, Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson), wrote a story for Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College, which he illustrated himself. This original manuscript is now in the British Library. Carroll was encouraged to publish the story and it became an instant success throughout the world. It represented a revolution in children’s story writing and is the most translated work of English literature after Shakespeare. The original edition was illustrated by Sir John Tenniel, chief illustrator of the Punch magazine.
Carroll often selected real scenes and characters familiar to the young Alice in his Alice in Wonderland creations. One such scene was a small grocery shop housed in a 500-year-old building just opposite Christ Church, Carroll’s college. Alice and her sisters often bought sweets there and would have visited the shop frequently with Carroll. The shopkeeper was an old lady with a bleating voice. The shop itself, situated close to some underground streams, was prone to flooding.
In the second of the Alice adventures, Through the Looking Glass, Alice visits a grocery shop and is confronted by a sheep. The shop is both wondrous and bizarre – the shop was “…full of all manner of curious thing” but frustratingly, whenever Alice tries to look at the things on the shelves they float away. “Things flow about so here!” she said at last in a plaintive tone. The shop then transforms into a stream and Alice finds herself rowing a boat with the sheep along a typical small stream, gliding past rushes. Tenniel’s two illustrations of the shop in the original publications were actually modeled on that little grocery shop in St. Aldates but with all details reversed (because it is in the looking-glass).