The History of Alice's Shop

Oxford has various links to the Alice in Wonderland stories, but the most tangible link to a chapter in the Alice adventures must surely be Alice’s Shop located on St Aldates, just opposite Alice’s childhood home.

In Through the Looking-Glass published in 1872, one episode takes place inside a dark but magical little shop. The two illustrations of the shop are clearly taken from the Alice’s Shop, which the real Alice would have frequented as a child being her nearest sweetshop. Knowing its significance the local community spontaneously dubbed the little Victorian grocery and sweetshop shop “Alice’s Shop” and it has kept that name for the last 145 years.

In the story, Alice finds herself in a dark little shop run by an old sheep. The shop was “full of all manner of curious things”. Alice is mesmerized by the fact that when she looks at things on the shelves they float away and she has to chase them with her eyes to try and corner them on one place. But unexpectedly they just pop through the ceiling and disappear! “Things flow about so here” she complains to the sheep. In real life the old sheep probably represents the then owner of the shop, an elderly lady with a bleating voice. And things probably did flow about in that dark little shop because the shop, being a few feet below street level, flooded due to its proximity to a number of underground streams.

For over a 100 years the shop continued as a local newsagents and sweetshop although it always had an “Alice’s Shop” sign as a beacon to the literary enthusiasts on a pilgrimage. One such enthusiast was a Dr. Gunther of Magdalen College who was moved to write a letter to the Times in the 1920s about that humble little shop when the houses on the opposite side of St Aldates were demolished to create the Memorial Gardens we see today.

The shop today has fully embraced its heritage and is now “the Alice in Wonderland shop” if every respect, adding another unique jewel for visitors to Oxford. Visitors will find a treasure trove of Alice in Wonderland gifts, souvenirs and memorabilia whilst they can intimately experience an inspiration for one of the best known children’s stories worldwide, making it all the more real and enjoyable. The Alice in Wonderland adventures is one more manifestation of the crucible of intellectual creativity that is Oxford, albeit one that everybody and of any age can enjoy and appreciate.