Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass were probably two of my favourite books as a child, and in fact they still are. I loved the whimsical adventures Carroll conjured up in my mind, full of riddles, mischief, strange animals and food which instructed you to eat it! I’ve even played the Queen of Hearts and the March Hare in two separate productions of the story.
Although Oxford seems to cry out to be the ultimate Wonderland setting, as that is where the stories were inspired by and created at, I thought I’d scour London for other unique settings influenced by Wonderland.
“Begin at the beginning, and go until you get to the end”, the White Rabbit instructs Alice at the trial for the Queen of Hearts. Therefore, it is always good to start with the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s story. The titular character of Alice herself is inspired by Alice Liddell, a daughter of a family Carroll was friends with, and whom he would tell the stories to. At Westminster school, one of the houses is in fact named after Alice’s father Henry Liddell, who was the headmaster there from 1846-1855. Lord Burlington’s design of Liddell’s Arch stands at the school to this day, and leads through to Little Dean’s Yard.
The original illustrations for the books, in which Wonderland was simply referred to as ‘Underground’, were the work of Sir John Teniel. Many of his works can also be found in the V&A Museum, including his Alice illustrations, which are held in the V&A’s Prints and Drawings Study Room. However, in order to view these, it is necessary to book an appointment.
You can, however, buy these prints along with chessboards and other iconography at the ‘Through the Looking Glass’ shop, which is located in Cecil’s Court. Since opening in 2012, the independent shop works with artists to create various fashion, homewares, and other curiosities inspired by both Wonderland, and Looking Glass Land. Step in and find yourself in a rabbit hole of wonder, but enter with caution- it may set you back a few pennies!
Food is a large part of the stories, and arguably the most well-loved scene is that of the Mad Hatter’s tea party, with his friends the March Hare and sleepy Dormouse. Hopefully you won’t get too frustrated like Alice, when you sit down to the Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at Sanderson’s Hotel. The décor is full of vintage china patterned with clocks and zebras, and the teapots even have kings and queens on them!
After Alice had a cup –or several – of tea with the Mad Hatter, she found herself amidst a game of croquet at the palace of the tyrannical Queen of Hearts. Flamingos were used as croquet sticks, hedgehogs as balls, and poor Alice had no idea what was happening! Unfortunately, somewhere to play croquet is hard to come by in London, but you can find Flamingos at Kensington Roof Gardens, along with plenty more beautiful wildlife and plants. The flowers may even begin to look like those of the Garden of Live Flowers that Alice finds herself in, whilst in Looking Glass Land…
You can experience Wonderland first-hand at Alice’s Adventures Underground- an intimate, site-specific promenade experience, created by theatre company Les Enfants Terribles. Returning to The Vaults in Waterloo after an Olivier-nominated 2016 run, the show offers visitors the chance to experience Wonderland themselves, with many topsy-turvy sets, colourful characters, and a land full of “wonder, mystery and danger”. Ticket information can be found here: https://www.alice-underground.com/aau/tickets.
Perhaps after you’ve been Underground, you may want a stiff drink or two at The Looking Glass Cocktail Club in Shoreditch. The club has a secret speakeasy, and is themed with lights and artwork inspired by Alice. The cocktails are named after events or characters in the book, such as ‘Pool of Tears’ and ‘Dead as a Dodo’- they even host cocktail-making workshops, too. So all that is left to do, is to invent your own magical concoction- what excuse could you possibly have not to?