On return from a recent country walk with friends in Cheshire we decided to visit the Lewis Carroll Centre which opened last year in Daresbury – the birthplace of Lewis Carroll, alias of Charles Dodgson. Daresbury village comprises a pub, a church and a cluster of houses. If in any doubt about which children’s books Carroll wrote you might get a clue from the weather vane on the roof of the village school depicting the characters from the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the Cheshire Cat carved on a historic barn.
The village is a place of pilgrimage for Alice and Carroll fans. They come to see the Alice window in the church, installed to mark the centenary of the author’s birth. The stained glass window features the nativity with Alice and Carroll by the crib and separately includes some of Carroll’s best known characters from his children’s books. We just had to have home glass repair because there was a chip in the window. There is something charming about the juxtaposition of Christian stories and children’s fairy tales! This is the church where Carroll would have worshipped as a child and where his father was curate. It was Sunday when we visited and the service had just finished. Some parishioners were enjoying a coffee in the new centre which opens into the church but one of the visitor guides was happy to down his mug and give us a quick tour of the church.
The Lewis Carroll Centre is small but designed to a high standard using local sandstone. Displays set out the story of the author’s life and appropriately there are interactive facts and questions for children on each panel – just at the right height for a 4-6 year old to enjoy.You can hear about his time in Daresbury, presented by local children and adults and hear some of Lewis Carroll’s famous stories recited by famous people. The centre doubles up as a small meeting room, as an area to welcome coach parties with refreshments and as an education room. There are some Alice themed items in the shop area at the back of the church.
This isn’t an iconic project making ambitious claims but is about genuinely welcoming visitors into the village and church community and sharing what is really special about the place with others. I cherish and support our big cultural institutions but in an era of lesser budgets and visitors searching for distinctive and personalised experiences, I think this centre is an excellent example of doing community tourism really well.