'Why is a raven like a writing desk?' - Lewis Carroll and Eastbourne

by Victoria

This summer at The Redoubt we have a new exhibition celebrating Eastbourne as a summer holiday destination with vintage photographs and videos providing a look back at the Eastbourne of years gone by. In its time Eastbourne has attracted some famous names to its sunny shoreline, and perhaps the most famous of these, Lewis Carroll, provides a special item from our collection which is also on display this summer. The bed desk, seemingly plain and normal at first glance, once belonged to one of the greatest children’s authors and wonderful minds of his time. It was made locally to his particular specifications, and was used by Carroll whilst he stayed here for varying times over 19 summers.

Our temporary summer exhibition is held in Casemate 20, and free for all

Lewis Carroll, real name Charles Lutwige Dodgson, holidayed regularly in Eastbourne from 1877 until 1896, two years before his death. In a book which tells much of Carroll’s private life, and written by Miss Isa Bowman, “the real Alice”, we can see that Carroll was indeed very fond of Eastbourne. When holidaying with him here Bowman herself talks blissfully of her time stating; ‘We seemed more free, and there was the air of holiday over it all’. Carroll too must have felt this way, after all he did return for nearly twenty years in a row and sent many a happy letter to friends and family during his stays in Eastbourne.

A glimpse at Lewis Carroll's bed desk

The bed desk, which has been part of our local history collection since 1988, would have been used for Carroll to eat his breakfast, read his newspapers and write. It is likely he penned some of his letters home from the desk, both friendly tales of his holidays and more serious, philosophical ideas. Perhaps the desk was even used for the beginnings of some of his beloved stories. It certainly seems that Carroll felt somewhat at peace here and was hopefully inspired by the beautiful coast and interesting people he met. Isa Bowman also describes the daily routine of holidaying with Carroll, stating that every afternoon they would walk to the top of Beachy Head, stopping for tea and cakes in the coastguard’s cottage once they reached the top – here, he would tell her his stories. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall there!

During his holidays in Eastbourne, Carroll for the most part stayed at a house in Lushington Road, where a blue plaque can be seen today celebrating the time he spent there. The house is now a dentist surgery, a funny coincidence considering accounts claim that Carroll attended the dentist almost daily whilst staying in Eastbourne – we’re not sure why, but perhaps he was enjoying the seaside ice cream a little too much! The surgery today still contains some memorabilia and on the 150th anniversary of Alice In Wonderland, had its own celebratory party with fancy dress and a mad hatters tea party - it's pleasing to see Carroll's imagination being kept alive even in the oddest of settings. 

   7 Lushington Road, the house where Lewis Carroll stayed for the majority of his time in Eastbourne

For the rest of his time in Eastbourne, it's imagined that Carroll did the same things as anyone else whilst on his holidays here. Letters tell us he visited the theatres, spent time at the beach, went on day trips to nearby Hastings, took photographs of people he met and was even encouraged to lead a Sunday Church service in the village of Westham in 1895. 

This summer our seaside exhibition celebrates the Eastbourne which, like it was by Lewis Carroll, has been loved by holidaymakers for over a hundred years. It focuses on the town a century later than Carroll’s visits, with nostalgic footage and tales from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. August 20th also brings another talk in our Culture & Cake series and a chance to discover the evolution of summer holidays. (For more information on this and where to buy tickets click here.)

So whether it is to see Carroll’s desk and imagine him writing there, reminisce on holiday memories, or see a side of Eastbourne you’ve never seen before, come and have a look at our seaside exhibition this summer and share with us your own local summer holiday memories.

Experience some more of the local seaside stories and famous visitors


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