Horsham Museum and the Adventures of Alice in Wonderland

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On 15 September 1879 a young couple named Reginald and Alice Hargreaves arrived at Sedgwick Park in Horsham to begin their honeymoon.

They were “foolishly happy creatures,” having been married at 3pm at Westminster Abbey.

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Such an occasion would rarely interest people today, but this year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of the world’s favourite children’s book, Alice in Wonderland, and it was the original Alice who honeymooned in Horsham that inspired the book.

Celebrating both events, Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum & Art Gallery is holding a major exhibition of Alice in Wonderland memorabilia, collected by Horsham resident Victor Wiffen, who has one of this country’s largest collections. The exhibition is being supported by Toovey’s.

The free exhibition, ‘Wonderland: 150 years of Alice’s Adventures,’ runs from July 23 to August 29, and is the perfect treat for summer, full of colour, humour and fun. Not only does the exhibition celebrate Alice, it also showcases the passion of a collector who pursued an affordable hobby.

As Victor notes: “The collection started with second hand copies of the Alice books bought for a few pence from charity stores and when it became apparent the huge variety of illustrators that were available with several editions being published every year, the collection seemed to enlarge with friends and family looking out for new copies to add. The collection extended to include translations of the books. It is known that it has been translated into at least 125 languages.

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“The back end of the garage was converted into a library and display area to accommodate the growing collection. It now includes china, porcelain, tin, painted pewter and pottery figures, Royal Doulton Toby jugs, tea pots from 1960s and Copenhagen porcelain, 1970’s Royal Worcester figures that were prototyped but never went into production.

“The collection has been featured on Channel 4’s ‘Collectors Lot’ about 15 years ago. The collection is considerably larger now with annual additions running to about 100 items a year.”

As for Alice, she had 48 years of happy marriage, and once, in 1931, she visited the Museum when it was at Park House, Horsham, as the minutes of the day record. If she visited today she would be surprised how her simple story has been transformed into political satire, including “Adolf in Blunderland” - a short political parody radio play written at the start of World War II, or used to pass comment on the foibles of society.

Not only has the story been adapted and changed, so have the celebrated original drawings by Tenniel. To many it is the illustrations that set the story off and really capture the imagination. As the display will show, some of the 20th century greatest artists and caricaturists have been inspired by it, including Dali, Steadman, Rackham, Peake, Rountree, Robinson and many more.

The exhibition at Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum & Art Gallery will delight and surprise, much like the story and book itself. Children can take part in the Museum’s Alice in Wonderland inspired Trail or Fun Sessions. People will be leaving the exhibition grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat.

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