It is a connection from not so very long ago, but it is a link which has already become swathed in legend, myth and hearsay. Just how strong is, in fact, Whitburn’s claim to be the source of inspiration of so much of Lewis Carroll’s genius works of child fiction?
Carroll certainly visited the town on a regular basis: on the occasions of his visits to his relatives, a Mr and Mrs Wilcox – the former being his uncle, the latter his cousin. He stayed at their residence in High Croft, Lizard Lane, and would often also visit the Williamsons at Whitburn Hall – who themselves often entertained their child relatives, among them the famous Alice Liddell.
The writer would often entertain the younger members of the families with which he stayed by utilising his imaginative story-telling skills. He would undertake walks in the nearby woods and along the local beaches, and weave his experiences into tales and poems – ditties and yarns which would often find their way into published works such as the Alice books in later years. Hence Whitburn’s claims for its expansive beach and the roots of The Walrus and the Carpenter, and that of Jabberwocky in the local legend of the Lambton Worm.
Jabberwocky was, indeed, most probably first narrated to his little friends at Whitburn; and it is now generally accepted that The Walrus and the Carpenter was written during one of Carroll’s stays in the town, too. However, various (rather more direct) Walrus connections to the area have yet to be proved beyond doubt – the appearance of a stuffed animal at Sunderland’s Museum certainly seems to have occurred after, and not before, Carroll got lively with his imagination. There is some evidence, however, that he may have encountered such a rigid incarnation at his sister-in-law’s house, Southwick Rectory, around 1869.
There is something rather pleasing about the uncertainty, nay, daftness, of it all.
More Carroll nonsense (actually, a very eloquent piece) can be found here.