Wearside’s Alice in Wonderland links celebrated

Mick Bute, an expert in Alice in Wonderland, alongside the statue of the Walrus in Mowbray Park...
Mick Bute, an expert in Alice in Wonderland, alongside the statue of the Walrus in Mowbray Park...
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FROM the Jabberwocky’s birth on Whitburn Beach to the oyster-guzzling Carpenter, Wearside’s links with Alice in Wonderland are being celebrated in a series of anniversary talks.

Expert Michael Bute says the time has come to talk of many things as he launches a series of commemorative events marking the 140th anniversary of Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Michael, 66, who lives in Sunderland city centre, has spent years studying author Lewis Carroll’s links with Wearside and how the area inspired his fantasy tales.

The series of talks will include a fund-raiser for a new statue to be built in Mowbray Park of the Carpenter, to accompany the Walrus which already sits by the lake.

“The Walrus and the Carpenter story was published in Alice Through the Looking Glass, not Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which people don’t always realise because of the Disney film,” he said.

Michael, who published some of his research in his book A Town Like Alice’s in 1997, will put forward the theories on how Wearside inspired the tale.

This includes Lewis Carroll’s supposed meeting with a carpenter on Wearside’s coastline.

Many carpenters were employed on ships and in Sunderland’s shipyards at the time, and Carroll is believed to have often walked along the coast from Whitburn to Sunderland while visiting family in his long summer breaks from Oxford.

Michael said his talk would also set the record straight on the Walrus, which many believe to have been inspired by the stuffed sea mammal whose head is displayed in Sunderland Museum.

The story goes that the walrus was brought back from Siberia by a Captain Wiggins, where it was stored in a warehouse next door to where Carroll’s uncle worked as a customs collector.

“This uncle, William Wilcox, had died two years before Wiggins’ Siberian voyage,” said Michael

“Carroll’s only visit to Sunderland in the years Wiggins was here was two days in 1872 – by then, over 15,000 copies of the book with the walrus poem had been sold.”

Michael will also be presenting new research in his talks on the life and work of Lewis Carroll – The Man who Wrote Alice.

The series began before Christmas in Aberdeenshire, where he gave a talk at the stately home Duff House, in Banff.

His talk there – A Storm in a Teacup – focused on the relationship between Lewis Carroll and the illustrator for his books, John Tenniel.

He said: “Though the main talk discussed the abrasive relationship between the two, as always I used the opportunity to bring into play any links with the Sunderland area.”

* The first talk, The Man Who Wrote Alice, takes place at Roker Methodist Church, on Wednesday, February 1, at 10.30am.

* The Walrus and the Carpenter talk takes place at Sunderland Museum, on February 26, at 2pm, as a fund-raiser for The Friends of Mowbray Park and Winter Gardens’ plan to build a carpenter statue in the park.

* The Man who Wrote Alice will be repeated at Wheatley House, Wheatly Hill, on Wednesday, April 25, at 7.30pm.

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