VISIT | Uncovering family secrets of Lewis Carroll at Vowchurch | Herefordshire
Discovering the Dodgson family connections
Finding the secret connection between the village of Vowchurch and Lewis Carroll
Revealing a historical capsule of Dodgson family history
Two brothers, two men of the church – one wrote Alice in Wonderland, one a vicar in this quiet Herefordshire village
"...the story of the extended Dodgson family..."
Incredibly unlikely. Incredibly surprising. That at this tiny church in north-west Herefordshire, where Welsh borderlands meet Herefordshire green valley, should be a pocket-sized archive relating to Lewis Carroll.
It seemed straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Only I hadn’t swallowed the contents of a bottle labelled ‘Drink me’ and seen anything labelled ‘Eat me.’ Straight through the rabbit hole.
But there is a perfect sense to why this gem of an archive sits in near silent anonymity in the church of St Bartholomew at Vowchurch. Family.
The church itself is sited down the hill, just before the bridge which goes over the river Dore once stacked with trout and eel; which can trickle by in a pleasant flow or become a violent torrent after heavy rain. Such is the way in this border country. But the bridge and river make for a pretty backdrop to the church here in this Herefordshire village in this Golden Valley; which is the name of this area. And where once the Golden Valley railway line once ran. A more picturesque journey must have been hard to discover.
But the connection at Vowchurch is not so much Lewis Carroll or to give this author his true name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, as his brother Skeffington Hume Dodgson. For this is the reason that a small but intriguing collection of Lewis Carroll curios lies here at the church at Vowchurch.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born in Daresbury, Cheshire on the 27th January 1832. The eldest son, but the third oldest of ten children. Skeffington was the sixth born in 1837, but younger brother to Charles.
Charles and Skeffington went to Christ Church, Oxford in the family tradition. There were generations of ecclesiastical training in the family. Their own father died an Archdeacon. So whilst Charles was working as a lecturer and tutor at Christ Church in mathematics, and then beginning his writing career with Alice; Skeffington was working his way up the ecclesiastical order.
Charles, writing as Lewis Carroll, published Alice in Wonderland in 1865, followed by various poems and parodies in 1869 called Phantasmagoria. Then Songs from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1870 and Through the Looking Glass, and what Alice Found There in 1872. More poems followed in the 1870s and 1880s and then in 1887, Alice’s Adventures Underground. As well as other trigonometry and mathematics books.
Skeffington was a curate in Suckley in Worcestershire in 1882 after his marriage to his wife Isabel in 1880. He was one of only three of the Dodgson siblings to marry. He went on to have several children. But in 1895, Skeffington was appointed as vicar in Vowchurch in Herefordshire. This tiny church in this tiny village on the western edge of England. The village must have been alive when news came in that Lewis Carroll’s brother was going to be their new vicar.
There is no evidence to suggest that his brother Charles visited him in Vowchurch. But a small display of associated photographs and copies of letters can be seen in the ongoing relationship with this brother and the role that Skeffington played in this village society in rural Herefordshire.
When Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson died at Guildford, Surrey in the home of his sister on the 14th January 1898 aged 65 from pneumonia after influenza, he was buried in the nearby Mount Cemetery in Guildford. At that time, Skeffington was in Vowchurch vicarage. Although the next oldest brother, his younger brothers were preferred to be executors of his will; perhaps suggesting that Skeffington was not perhaps seen as reliable, physically around or liked by his eldest brother Charles.
In fact, only three of the Dodgson siblings married – one of them Skeffington. When their father had died in 1868, they moved from the vicarage in Croft-on-Tees in Yorkshire where they had lived since 1843 (with some intervals at Oxford) to The Chestnuts in Guildford, Surrey which is where Charles subsequently died and was buried.
As for Skeffington, he served as vicar in Vowchurch from 1895 until 1910 when he retired due to ill health; he was in fact 73 years of age. But he moved locally to the village of Ewyas Harold and in 1919 died aged 82. Rev. Skeffington Dodgson was buried at Vowchurch in the small churchyard not far from the river Dore and the church where he preached.
So there you go, that is why there is a link between this tiny village in Herefordshire and Lewis Carroll of Alice fame.
Who knew? I didn’t. Go see something you never expected.
But for more interesting diversions, head outside and take in that bridge over the River Dore...
Directions and Map |
Find Vowchurch in the Golden Valley in north-west Herefordshire - take a turning off the B4348 and you'll find the tiny road which leads over the bridge at the little place of Vowchurch and the church next to the river and bridge