Myers Literary Guide:
LEWIS CARROLL (1832 - 1898)
In 1843, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson ('Lewis Carroll') moved with his family from Cheshire where he had been born in 1832, to the vicarage at Croft near Darlington. It remained the family home until 1868. Charles attended school in nearby Richmond for some two years (1844-46) before moving on to Rugby. At this time he used to write stories and poems, and invent games for the entertainment of the numerous family at Croft, where the large shady garden remains much as the Dodgson children knew it. One of his many amusing poems begins:
Fair stood the ancient Rectory,Carroll also wrote a humorous ghost story called 'The Legend of Scotland', referring to the part of Auckland Castle where Scottish prisoners were once kept The story, set in 1325, involves Bishop Bek of Durham, so that Carroll can bring in one of his puns as the joke ending. Carroll was a keen photographer and a comical story 'A Photographer's day Out' was published in the South Shields Amateur Magazine in 1860. In the first surviving diary of his early manhood, we find that he met 'three nice little children' belonging to a Mrs Crawshay in Tynemouth on 21 August 1855. He remarks: 'I took a great fancy to Florence, the eldest, a child of very sweet manners...'
In August 1856 Carroll took a rail trip to the Lake District with his uncle ‘Skeffy’ and other camera enthusiasts. On the way back via Stainmore, an exploration of wild Teesdale by coach did not impress Carroll. Bowes in particular reminded him of a plague-stricken town. A ‘mouthing idiot’ lolled on the corner of the house they stayed in. Next to a prison or a lunatic asylum, Carroll prayed to be preserved from living at Bowes. He remarked on the original of Dickens’ (q.v.) Dotheboys Hall, which had long since ceased to be a school.
Later, the travellers were trapped in Barnard Castle by a droning and monotonous guide and were much relieved to complete their return to Croft by rail.
Most of his famous poem 'Jabberwocky' which begins:
'Twas brillig and the slithy toveswas written on a visit to his Wilcox cousins in Whitburn, near Sunderland in 1855. Mary Wilcox was the wife of the Collector of Customs in Sunderland; their house, High Croft, was later burned down. The word 'beamish' in the line:' Come to my arms my beamish boy' is assumed to be taken from the Durham village. Carroll also probably composed 'The Walrus and the Carpenter' - who wept like anything to see/ Such quantities of sand - while walking on Whitburn and Seaburn beaches. The distinctive headgear of a ship's carpenter was a common sight in a great ship-building centre like Sunderland. The walrus once kept in Sunderland Museum, however, arrived later - a gift from the explorer Joseph Wiggins (q.v. in FAMOUS PEOPLE on this site) - and has now disintegrated except for the head There is, however, a bronze walrus in Mowbray Park in Sunderland.
Carroll was in Whitburn in 1864, 1866 and 1872, when he visited his sister who had married the vicar of Holy Trinity in Southwick. There is a commemorative plaque there.
Carroll's connection with Whitburn is commemorated by a statue in the library, removed from Cornthwaite Park to protect it from the children of today. It originally had a child companion, not Alice Liddell as might be thought, but her cousin Frederika, whom Carroll had met at Whitburn Hall, and sketched on Roker beach.