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Nautilus in a Bottle – Potty Science Club

Hello and welcome to Potty Science Club session number 6!

All our experiments are conducted in a home environment, not in a lab, and will be safe and simple using equipment and items you can find in your own home. The experiments will reflect on an item or exhibit held in the Museum’s collections. Today’s experiment involves using scissors, which may require adult supervision or assistance.

A special item amongst the museums many collections is the wonderful shell of a Nautilus. The Nautilus is a member of a group of animals called cephalopods (meaning head-foot). these special creatures have hard external shells and are relatives of the now extinct Ammonites and Belemnites and the living Octopuses and Squid.  Cephalopods originated in the Late Cambrian Period 570 to 500 million years ago but the Nautilus is the only cephalopod with an external shell still alive today.  These amazing creatures first appeared about 500 million years ago and there were many different species living in the seas throughout the ancient world.

Unfortunately, today there are only a few surviving species of the Nautilus. These are found in the seas around Australia and the Philippines. Nautiluses have changed very little over the millions of years they have been around. The Nautilus lives in its shell with only its head and tentacles outside and the shell is divided into chambers filled with gas.  It’s by adjusting the levels of gas that the living Nautilus and can move up from the depths of the ocean to the shallow waters at night time to feed. The gas contained in the Nautiluses chambers is slightly below atmospheric air pressure at sea level.

In this experiment, we will be able see how air pressure can be demonstrated using a water bottle and float. You will also be able to control the float inside the water by altering the air pressure. 
For this experiment you will need:


A straw (I use re-useable or recyclable straws)
Plasticine, Play dough or similar (I used Blutac)
An empty plastic 2L bottle
A measuring jug
and Scissors

First, cut a small length of the straw. Then plug one end of the straw with plasticine or Bluetac. On the opposite end of the straw, make a ring of plasticine around the outside of the straw. so the straw is weighted but is open at that end). Pop it into the jug of water with the weight at the bottom to see if it floats with just the tip at the surface.  Adjust the weight of the float, adding or removing plasticine until it floats correctly. Keep trying until you get it right.

Next, fill the bottle three quarters full with water. Drop the straw into the bottle weighed-end down (to trap air in the straw) and put on the top, making sure it’s nice and tight. Squeeze the bottle as hard as you can and watch what happens……

The straw will sink!

Take a look at the video to see how I do it:

So what’s going on in the bottle?  

Water and air in a closed bottle create a sealed pressure environment. The air trapped inside the straw makes it float. When you squeeze the bottle you compress the space inside, making less space for the air to circulate, so the air pressure inside the bottle increases, pushing water up into the straw. This makes the straw heavier, so it sinks. When you release the pressure on the bottle, the air has more space to move again, so the pressure decreases and air fills the straw, making it float back to the top of the bottle.

You are watching air pressure in action.  Amazing don’t you think?

By Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer

Curiouser and Curiouser: The Trial

Chapter 9

The King and Queen of Hearts were seated on their throne when they arrived, with a great crowd assembled about them all sorts of little birds and beasts, as well as the whole pack of cards. A Knave was standing before them, in chains, with a soldier on each side to guard him; and near the King was the White Rabbit, with a trumpet in one hand, and a scroll of parchment in the other.

Alice had never been in a court of justice before, but she had read about them in books, and she was quite pleased to find that she knew the name of nearly everything there. “That’s the judge,” she said to herself, “because of his great wig.”

The judge, by the way, was the King; and he wore not so much a wig as a splendorous helmet. It too was gold but had a great red plume down the centre. Even from where she stood Alice could see it was decorated with little soldiers all round. There was no doubt he was the most important person in the court.

As Alice inspected the jury she saw many of them were bejeweled with the finest of gold, there were ruby and gold clasps on their shoulders and Alice noted one in particular had a great gold chain with a cross attached, also centred by a ruby.

The twelve jurors were all writing very busily on slates. “What are they doing?” Alice whispered to the Gryphon. “They can’t have anything to write, the trial’s not begun.”
“Noting their names,” the Gryphon whispered in reply, “for fear they should forget them before the end of the trial.”
“Silence in the court!” yelled the White Rabbit and Alice shrank to avoid the kings gaze.

One of the jurors had a pencil that squeaked and Alice could not stand it, so she went behind him, and found an opportunity of taking it away. She did it so quickly that the poor little juror (it was Bill, the Lizard) could not figure out where it had gone and so was obliged try to write with one finger.

“Herald, read the accusation!” said the King.

On this the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and then unrolled the parchment scroll, and read aloud “the Knave is charged with stealing the mystery object.”

“Consider your verdict,” the King said to the jury.
“Not yet, not yet!” the Rabbit hastily interrupted. “There’s a great deal to come before that!”

The Hatter was called up to the stand; Alice could see where this was going after her own experience with the Hatter and so turned to the Dormouse who was sitting beside her.
“Excuse me, but what is the mystery object?”

The Dormouse yawned and pointed at a strange shaped in a glass case near where the king was standing. Inside was the strangest looking item Alice thought she had seen all day, and from here it almost looked like a bust of some kind. She would have to get closer to see it.

She had been so many different sizes today that Alice had almost forgotten she hadn’t quite gotten back to normal size when the familiar tingling sensation struck, within a minute Alice had grown enough that the dormouse yelled “I wish you would move over! I can hardly breathe.”
“I can’t help it” was her response “I’m growing.”
The interrogation of the Hatter was coming to a close:
“If that’s all you know about it, you may stand down,” continued the King.
“I can’t go any lower,” said the Hatter: “I’m on the floor, as it is.”
“Then you may sit down,” the King replied.
“I’d rather finish my tea,” said the Hatter, with an anxious look at the Queen, who was fiddling with her golden rings.
“You may go,” said the King, and the Hatter hurriedly left the court, without even waiting to put his shoes on.
“Just take his head off outside,” the Queen added to one of the officers: but the Hatter was out of sight before the officer could get to the door.
“Call the next witness!” said the King.

Alice watched the White Rabbit as he fumbled over the list, feeling very curious to see what the next witness would be like, “—for they haven’t got much evidence yet,” she said to herself. Imagine her surprise, when the White Rabbit read out, at the top of his shrill little voice, the name “Alice!”

“Here!” cried Alice, quite forgetting in the flurry of the moment how large she had grown in the last few minutes, and she jumped up in such a hurry that she tipped over the jury-box with the edge of her skirt, upsetting all the jurymen on to the heads of the crowd below, and there they lay sprawling about, reminding her very much of a globe of goldfish she had accidentally upset the week before.

As soon as the jury had a little recovered from the shock of being upset, and their slates and pencils had been found and handed back to them, they set to work very diligently to write out a history of the accident, all except the Lizard, who seemed too much overcome to do anything but sit with its mouth open, gazing up into the roof of the court.

“What do you know about this business?” the King said to Alice.
“Nothing,” said Alice.
“Nothing whatever?” persisted the King.
“Nothing whatever,” said Alice.

Now that she was closer, she could see that the mystery object was not a bust, but she thought the name was well placed for she had no clue what it could be. It was a round golden plate, inlaid with more red stones in a series of intricate designs. Attached to that was a strange cylinder, this too was inlaid with red stones, but the pattern was simple, just a line of stones adorned it. Finally, the top, it was a sort of button that had been positioned on a cylinder very much in the way a hat would sit on one’s head, the button was patterned with an almost checkerboard except the squares were not all equal and it had dainty blue lines on it. Alice had almost forgotten where she was in the allure of the mystery object, she had continued growing and was now squeezed into the witness box very uncomfortably.

The King had decided Alice had no more to say on the matter and simply said “Let the jury consider their verdict,” for what must have been the twentieth time that day.

“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”
“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.
“I won’t!” said Alice. She had grown enough that she was no longer fearful of arguing with the formidable Queen.
“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
“Who cares for you?” said Alice, (having grown to her full size by this time.) “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”

At this the whole pack rose into the air and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream and tried to beat them off, all of a sudden, she found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.

“Wake up, Alice dear!” said her sister; “Why, what a long sleep you’ve had!”

“Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!” said Alice, and she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about. When she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said, “It was a curious dream, dear, certainly: but now run in to your tea; it’s getting late.” So Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, what a wonderful dream it had been.

The End

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Chapter 9 Featured Objects:

Figure of the White rabbit as The Herald in the Court Scene
Modelled by Kathleen Goodwin

Near the King was the White Rabbit, with a trumpet in one hand, and a scroll of parchment in the other.

Bone china, painted with enamels. Kathleen Goodwin specialised in small sculptural figures modelled in bone china, and produced a number of figures based on the original Tenniel drawings from Alice in Wonderland of which this appears to have been the first.

Kathleen Goodwin was locally-born and trained. She was a member of the Society of Staffordshire Artists and exhibited with them from 1937 until 1951.

The Cup of Knowledge
Aynsley, 1925

“You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her

The design of cards has changed greatly over the centuries but by 1865 when Alice was published, packs or ‘decks’ of cards looked the way they do today. They comprised 52 cards with rounded corners and has four ‘suits’ in two colours – hearts and diamonds are red, while spade and clubs are black – and the court cards (king, queen, and knave) are ‘reversible’.

While packs of cards can be used for playing a variety of games, either alone or with other players they can have many other uses, including building structures to create a ‘house of cards’.

Cards have also been used in fortune-telling, with different characteristics being assigned to each card. This cup, made by the Aynsley company of Longton is titled ‘The Cup of Knowledge’ and was first put into production in 1925.

Chapter 9 Blogs, games and activities:

The Secrets of Playing Cards

The Secrets of Playing Cards

Find out about the history of playing card sets in the museum's collection

Curiouser and Curiouser: The Queen’s Croquet-Ground

Chapter 8

A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red. As Alice approached, she heard one of them say “Look out now, Five! Don’t go splashing paint over me like that!”

“I couldn’t help it,” said Five, in a sulky tone; “Seven jogged my elbow.” On which Seven looked up and said, “That’s right, Five! Always lay the blame on others!”
“You’d better not talk!” said Five. “I heard the Queen say only yesterday you deserved to be beheaded!”

When his eye chanced to fall upon Alice, as she stood watching them, and he checked himself suddenly: the others looked round also, and all of them bowed low.

“Would you tell me,” said Alice, a little timidly, “why you are painting those roses?”

Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began in a low voice, “Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know. So you see, Miss, we’re doing our best, afore she comes, to—” At this moment Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out “The Queen! The Queen!” and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked round, eager to see the Queen.

Soon the garden began to fill with people, all of which were adorned with the symbols of playing cards; ten royal children ornamented with hearts, Kings and Queens of diamonds, spades, and clubs. Finally, the King and Queen of hearts arrived. Alice was rather doubtful whether she ought not to lie down on her face like the three gardeners but thought it would be silly as she would miss the view of the procession through the beautiful garden. Alice especially appreciated a fountain that was made up of a giant stone head with a plant balanced on top. There were rows and rows of plants lining.

The queen stopped in front of Alice and barked “What’s your name, child?”
“My name is Alice, so please your Majesty,” said Alice very politely.
The Queen then turned her attention to the three gardeners “What have you been doing here?”
“May it please your Majesty,” said Two “we were trying…”
“I see!” said the Queen, who had been examining the roses. “Off with their heads!” and the procession moved on, three of the soldiers remaining behind to execute the unfortunate gardeners, who ran to Alice for protection.

Alice scooped up the gardeners and put them into a large flower-pot that stood near “I shan’t let them behead you.” The three soldiers wandered about looking for them for a time, then quietly marched off after the others. “Are their heads off?” shouted the Queen. “Their heads are gone, if it please your Majesty!” the soldiers shouted in reply.

 “Can you play croquet?” she posed, this time to Alice. “Yes!” shouted Alice. “Come on, then!” roared the Queen, and Alice joined the procession.

“Get to your places!” boomed the Queen’s voice and people began running about in all directions, tumbling against each other; until they settled down and the game began. Alice thought she had never seen such a curious croquet game in her life; the balls were live hedgehogs, the mallets live flamingoes, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and to stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches.

It was very difficult to putt with a flamingo and Alice’s hedgehogs were another matter entirely, she soon concluded that it was going to be a very difficult game indeed. The players all played at once without waiting for turns, fighting for the hedgehogs; and in a very short time the Queen was furiously shouting “Off with his head!” or “Off with her head!”

Alice began to feel very uneasy: it wouldn’t be long she was sure until the queen demanded “off with her own head.” Looking around for a way to escape something caught her eye above a wooden pergola in the centre of the garden, after a minute or so a familiar smile had materialised in the air.

“The Cheshire Cat!” she exclaimed “now I shall have somebody to talk to.”
“How are you getting on?” said the Cat, as soon as there was mouth enough for it to speak with. Alice waited till the whole head appeared, and then put down her flamingo, and began an account of the game, feeling very glad she had someone to listen. The Cat seemed to think that there was enough of it now in sight, and no more of it appeared.

“How do you like the Queen?” said the Cat in a low voice.
“Not at all,” said Alice: “she’s so extremely—” Just then she noticed that the Queen was close behind her, listening: so she went on, “—likely to win, that it’s hardly worth while finishing the game.” The Queen smiled and passed on.

All the time they were playing the Queen never left off shouting “Off with his head!” or “Off with her head!” Those whom she sentenced were taken into custody by the soldiers, who of course had to stop being arches to do this, so that by the end of half an hour or so there were no arches left, and all the players, except the King, the Queen, and Alice, were in custody and under sentence of execution. Then the Queen left off, quite out of breath, and said to Alice, “Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?”
“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”
“Come on, then,” said the Queen, “and he shall tell you his history,”

As they walked off together, Alice heard the King say in a low voice, to the company generally, “You are all pardoned.”
Out of the garden they walked and through a hall until they reached a place full of the bones from the most wondrous creatures. In the midst of the bones was the Gryphon, lying fast asleep. “Up, lazy thing!” said the Queen, “and take this young lady to see the Mock Turtle, and to hear his history. I must go back and see after some executions I have ordered;” and she walked off, leaving Alice alone with the Gryphon.

The Gryphon sat up and rubbed its eyes: then it watched the Queen till she was out of sight: then it chuckled. “What fun!” said the Gryphon, half to itself, half to Alice.
“What is the fun?” said Alice.
“Why, she,” said the Gryphon. “It’s all her fancy, that: they never executes nobody, you know.”
They had not gone far before they saw the Mock Turtle in the distance, sitting sad and lonely on a little ledge of rock, they made their way over to him and the Gryphon spoke:
“This here young lady, she wants for to know your history, she do.”
“I’ll tell it her,” said the Mock Turtle in a deep, hollow tone: “sit down, both of you, and don’t speak a word till I’ve finished.”

So they sat down, and nobody spoke for some minutes. Alice thought to herself, “I don’t see how he can ever finish, if he doesn’t begin.” But she waited.
“The world was once full of great creatures like me.” The turtle began.
He gestured towards some scattered bones.
“When we were little,” the Mock Turtle went on, “we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle—we used to call him Tortoise—”
“Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?” Alice asked.
“We called him Tortoise because he taught us,” said the Mock Turtle.
“He taught us about the humans and the progress they were making.” He gestured to a glass box filled with some stone tools, and an axe with a long wooden handle.
“my particular favourite were the arrowheads, the intricate little stones had been carved very neatly.” He exclaimed “and by hand no less.”
The Mock Turtle looked conflicted, a look of half admiration half sadness on his face.
“that’s enough about tools,” said the Gryphon “tell her about the Ro-mans.”
The Mock Turtle sighed and gestured towards the glass box.

Alice was amazed to see that the tools were gone and had been replaced by a variety of coins and intricate gold items.
There was a beautiful gold ring with a coloured stone set into it. Alice turned her attention to the coins each one was engraved with tiny letters and the head of a great bearded man.

“That’s Tetricus” voiced the Mock Turtle “ he was an emperor from 271 to 274AD, he surrended the Battle of Châlons” he began to regale the story of the battle and Alice found herself daydreaming about the things Ro-mans would have bought with the coins, when a cry of “The trial’s beginning!” was heard in the distance.

“Come on!” cried the Gryphon taking Alice by the hand. “we can’t be late!”

Continue the Story

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Chapter 8 Featured Objects:

Untitled [garden with ornamental hedges, flowers and female figure, 1929
Charles William Brown (1882-1961)

After Alice leaves the Mad Hatter’s Tea party, she finds a door in a tree that leads to the long hall, and the little glass table, upon which is the little golden key. Alice uses the key to unlock the door leading to the garden, after walking down a little passage she finds herself in a “beautiful garden , among the bright flower-beds and the cool fountains.

Staffordshire-born miner and amateur artist C.W Brown’s paintings range widely in subject matter from depictions of early 20th-century mining and industry in the Potteries, to local and imaginary scenes. This watercolour painting of a beautiful garden may have been inspired by the artist’s visits to Trentham Gardens.

19th Century Playing Cards

In the Queen’s Croquet-Ground Alice encounters the Queen of Hearts and her court. Everyone looks like playing cards. The Queen and the royal family are Hearts, her soldiers are Clubs, the courtiers are Diamonds, and the gardeners are Spades. When Alice first meets the gardeners they are hastily painting white roses red.

Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know. So you see, Miss, we’re doing our best, afore she comes, to — “ At this moment Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out “The Queen! The Queen!” and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces.

The concept of cards with suits originated in China, and spread to Europe via the Islamic World. Many variations of the suits developed. The earliest ones in Europe were the ‘Latin’ suits of Italy, Spain and Portugal which consisted of coins, clubs, cups and swords. In Germany the suits became acorns, leaves, hearts and bells. This influenced French and English cards which became the most widespread suits around the world bearing hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades.

Chapter 8 Blogs, games and activities:

The Secrets of Playing Cards

The Secrets of Playing Cards

Find out about the history of playing card sets in the museum's collection

Curiouser and Curiouser: A Mad Tea Party

Chapter 7

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. “Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,” thought Alice; “only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.”

The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: “No room! No room!” they cried out when they saw Alice coming. “There’s plenty of room!” said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large armchair at one end of the table. The table was stacked with plates and dishes, teapots and jugs, intricately painted. Some were worn as though they were centuries old.

“Have some tea,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked around the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. Her teacup had little playing cards painted on the inside and intricate writing around the rim “I don’t see any tea,” she remarked.
“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.
“Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,” said Alice angrily.
“It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,” said the March Hare.
“I didn’t know it was your table,” said Alice; “it’s laid for a great many more than three.” The tabletop was made Alice saw of intricate ceramic tiles; each one had a painting of a scene of some sort. Alice was inspecting one particular scene which was made up of people on a frozen lake when the Hatter finally spoke up:
“Minton Hollins and Company, Stoke-Upon-Trent.”
Alice didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. “Excuse me, what do you mean by that?”
“Skating” replied the Hatter “1886.”

He must have been talking about the tiles thought Alice, she continued perusing the table, there was a man ploughing a field, a very busy seaside scene and a group of people with a hay-stacked cart. Alice stopped when she arrived at a strange blue scene, it was a group of naked cherubs surrounding a plant, “Please, could you expla…” she was cut off by the March Hare. “You shouldn’t ask personal questions” he said tersely “it’s very rude.”

Alice thought to argue with him that it wasn’t a personal question, but her eye fell upon the most curious little dish. It was no good for eating off nor did it look practical for a tea party in any way, it was a mossy stone shaped dish upon which sat two ceramic lizards. It made Alice think of Bill.

“I want a clean cup,” yelled the Hatter, interrupting Alice’s daydream: “let’s all move one place on.”

He moved one seat over as he spoke, the March Hare moved one over, and Alice rather unwillingly took the place of the March Hare. The Hatter was the only one who got any advantage from the change: and Alice was a good deal worse off than before, as the March Hare had just upset the milk-jug into his plate. The milk-jug itself was shaped like a cow, only it was a vibrant shade of pink. The milk glugged out until the plate was full.
“The Keiller Collection” said the March Hare “Guess how many there are?”
“you’re asking me?” questioned Alice, very much confused, “I don’t think—”
“Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter.

This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear, she got up in great disgust, and walked off. Neither the Hatter nor the March Hare took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her. The last time she looked back, they were trying to put a dormouse into a cauliflower teapot.

“At any rate I’ll never go there again!” said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. “It’s the stupidest tea-party I was ever at in all my life!”

She started when she spotted a great bird, it was blue and green and seemed to have eyes in its feathers. Alice crept closer so as not to frighten the poor thing, when she realised this too was ceramic. She was beginning to wonder who could have possibly made the bird and left it out in the wood when she spotted another ceramic bird, this time an owl. It seemed to be a flask of some description, with an empty, detachable head for a cup and Alice presumed it had been misplaced by a member of the tea party.

It was only then Alice noticed the tree behind the owl had a door leading right into it. “That’s very curious!” she thought. “But everything’s curious today. I think I may as well go in at once.” And in she went.

Once more she found herself in the long hall, and close to the little glass table. “Now, I’ll manage better this time,” she said to herself, and began by taking the little golden key, and unlocking the door that led into the garden. Then she went to work nibbling at the mushroom (having kept a piece of it in her pocket) till she was about a foot high: she walked down the little passage and she found herself at last in the beautiful garden.

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Chapter 7 Featured Object:

Top Hat

…the last time she saw them, they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot. `At any rate I’ll never go THERE again!’ said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. `It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!’

The theme of madness in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is illustrated by the strange behaviour of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare.
The phrase “mad as a hatter” is associated with the hat-making industry of the 19th century . A mercury solution was commonly used during the process of turning fur into a felt covering for hats causing the hatters to breathe in the fumes of this highly toxic metal. Over time the build-up of mercury in the workers’ bodies would result in symptoms such as trembling, loss of co-ordination and slurred speech. It is thought that Lewis Carroll’s character of the Mad Hatter could have been inspired by the example of the hat-makers’ exposure to mercury.
To be as “mad as a March hare” refers to the excitable behaviour of hares during the month of March – their breeding season – which includes boxing at other hares and jumping vertically for no apparent reason.

Chapter 7 Blogs, games and activities:

Mad March Hares

Mad March Hares

Find out about the curious activity of hares in spring time

Curiouser and Curiouser: Pig and Pepper

Chapter 6

For a minute or two she stood looking at the house, and wondering what to do next, when suddenly a footman in livery came running out of the wood, with the face of a fish and rapped loudly at the door with his knuckles. It was opened by another footman in livery, with a round face, and large eyes like a frog; and both footmen, Alice noticed, had powdered hair that curled all over their heads. She was curious to know what was going on and crept a little way out of the wood to listen.

The Fish-Footman began by producing from under his arm a great letter, nearly as large as himself, and this he handed over to the other, saying, in a solemn tone, ‘For the Duchess. An invitation from the Queen to play croquet.’ The Frog-Footman repeated, in the same solemn tone, only changing the order of the words a little, ‘From the Queen. An invitation for the Duchess to play croquet.’

Then they both bowed low, and their curls got entangled together. Alice laughed so loud that she had to take some steps backwards into the forest to keep them from hearing her; and when she next peeped out the Fish-Footman was gone, and the other was sitting on the ground near the door, staring up into the sky. Alice went up to the door and knocked.

‘There’s no sort of use in knocking,’ said the Footman, ‘for two reasons. First, because I’m on the same side of the door as you are; Second, because they’re making such a noise inside, no one could possibly hear you.’

From inside Alice could hear a wild howling, sneezing and occasionally huge crashes of things being broken. ‘Please, then,’ said Alice, ‘how am I to get in?’

‘ARE you to get in at all?’ said the Footman.

At this Alice decided she had had enough of the puzzling remarks from the creatures she had met today and so she opened the door and went in.

The walls were a vibrant lemon yellow but Alice could barely see them as the room was so full of smoke. The Duchess was sitting at a small wooden table, nursing a bundle. Standing at the stove, under a rack of washing suspended from the ceiling, the cook tentatively stirred a concoction which Alice presumed was soup. Leaning over the pot to get a better look Alice began to sneeze terribly.

There’s certainly too much pepper in that soup!’ Alice said to herself, as well as she could for sneezing. There was definitely too much of it in the air. Even the Duchess sneezed occasionally; and as for the baby, it was sneezing and howling alternately without a moment’s pause. The only things in the kitchen that did not sneeze, were the cook, and a large cat which was sitting on the hearth and grinning from ear to ear.

‘Please would you tell me,’ said Alice, ‘why your cat grins like that?’

‘It’s a Cheshire cat,’ said the Duchess, ‘and that’s why. Pig!’ She said the last word with such sudden violence that Alice quite jumped; but she saw in another moment that it was addressed to the baby.

‘Here! you may nurse it a bit, if you like!’ the Duchess said to Alice, flinging the baby at her as she spoke. `I must go and get ready to play croquet with the Queen,’ and she hurried out of the room. The cook threw a frying-pan after her as she went out, but it just missed her. Alice caught the baby with some difficulty, as it was a queer-shaped little creature, and held out its arms and legs in all directions, `just like a star-fish,’ thought Alice. The poor little thing was snorting like a steam-engine when she caught it and kept doubling itself up and straightening itself out again. Alice struggled to contain the child but after a minute or so had figured out a suitable position and set about walking it through the house in an attempt to settle him.

She started upon entering the next room, it was as if she had walked into a completely different building entirely. Strange alcoves ran along both sides – to her left was what looked like a tiled kitchen behind a wooden counter – ‘H NUTTALL MAKER ROCHDALE’ was written upon one of the tiles. To her right was something even more curious – a large cart, brightly coloured with reds, blues and yellows with the elaborately painted sign ‘ROAST POTATOES’.

The baby grunted and Alice looked very anxiously into its face to see what was the matter with it. There could be no doubt that it had a VERY turned-up nose, much more like a snout than a real nose; also its eyes were getting extremely small for a baby: altogether Alice did not like the look of the thing at all. Alice was just beginning to think to herself, ‘Now, what am I to do with this creature when I get it home?’ when it grunted again, so violently, that she looked down into its face in some alarm. This time there could be NO mistake about it: it was neither more nor less than a pig, and she felt that it would be quite absurd for her to carry it further. She placed the pig-baby on the tiled floor by the roast potato cart and walked towards the door. ‘If it had grown up,’ she said to herself, ‘it would have made a dreadfully ugly child: but it makes rather a handsome pig, I think.’

And she began thinking over other children she knew, who might do very well as pigs, she was a little startled by seeing the Cheshire Cat sitting on a bough of a tree a few yards off. The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good- natured, she thought, still it had VERY long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.

“Cheshire Puss,” she began, rather timidly, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“What sort of people live about here?”

“In THAT direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw round, “lives a Hatter: and in THAT direction,” waving the other paw, “lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”  “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,”said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.

“will you play croquet with the Queen to-day?”

“I should like it very much,” said Alice, “but I haven’t been invited yet.”

“You’ll see me there,” said the Cat, vanishing quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained sometime after the rest of it had gone.

She had not gone much farther before she came in sight of the house of the March Hare: she thought it must be the right house, because the chimneys were shaped like ears and the roof was thatched with fur. She walked up towards it rather timidly, saying to herself “Suppose it should be raving mad after all! I almost wish I’d gone to see the Hatter instead. “

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Chapter 6 Featured Object:

Cat Dish
Earthenware dish painted with a cheerful cat
Made by Andrew McGarva, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire

I wish you wouldn’t keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly: you make one quite giddy.”

“All right,” said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.

“Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice; “but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!”

The Cheshire Cat with its disconcerting grin is one of the most memorable characters in the book, not least for its remarkable habit of appearing and disappearing. However, the phrase “to grin like a Cheshire cat” was in popular use at least eighty years before Carroll used it, appearing in A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1788. As for the meaning of the phrase, opinion is divided with many fanciful suggestions.

Curiouser and Curiouser: Advice from a Caterpillar

Chapter 5

The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence and Alice surveyed the jungle. In every direction she could see mushrooms, each with their own caterpillar inhabitant. Each caterpillar was different, there were spiky ones and stripy ones, and one that looked like a fluffy little moustache. The original Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice: “Who are YOU?”

Alice replied, “I–I hardly know. At least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar “Explain yourself!”
“I can’t understand it myself. Being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing!”
“It isn’t” said the Caterpillar.
“Well, perhaps you haven’t found it so yet, said Alice; “but when you have to turn into a chrysalis, then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll understand how odd it feels, won’t you?”
“Not a bit,” said the Caterpillar.
“Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,” said Alice; “all I know is, it would feel very odd to ME.”

For some minutes it puffed away without speaking, but at last it unfolded its arms, took the hookah out of its mouth again, and said,

“So, you think you’re changed, do you?”
“I’m afraid I am, sir,” said Alice; “I can’t keep the same size for ten minutes together!”

“Are you content now?” said the Caterpillar.
“Well, I would like to be a LITTLE larger,” said Alice: “three inches is such a wretched height to be.”
“It is a very good height indeed!” said the Caterpillar angrily, rearing itself upright as it spoke (it was exactly three inches high).
“But I’m not used to it!” pleaded poor Alice.

The Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, yawned, and shook itself. Then it got down off the mushroom, and crawled away in the grass, remarking as it went, “One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.”

What an odd statement to make, Alice thought to herself, one side of what?

“Of the mushroom,” said the Caterpillar, just as if she had asked it aloud; and in another moment it was out of sight.

Alice looked thoughtfully at the mushroom for a minute, trying to make out which were the two sides of it; and as it was perfectly round, she found this a very difficult question. She could hear frogs, birds, animals all around her but she could not see anyone to help. And the other caterpillars had left too. Feeling there was nothing left to do Alice stretched her arms around the mushroom as far as they would go and broke off a bit of the edge with each hand.

And now which is which? she said to herself and nibbled a little of the right-hand bit to try the effect: the next moment she felt a violent blow underneath her chin: it had struck her foot! She was a good deal frightened by this very sudden change, but she felt that there was no time to be lost, as she was shrinking rapidly; she nibbled some of the other bit. Her chin was pressed so closely against her foot, that there was hardly room to open her mouth; but she did it and managed to swallow a morsel of the left-hand bit.

Alice walked towards some trees to the side, it would be easier to know if she was the correct height again when compared to a tree she thought. But she had forgotten that the jungle was only a jungle so long as she was small.

`Come, my head’s free at last!’ said Alice in a tone of delight, which changed into alarm in another moment, when she found that her shoulders were nowhere to be found: all she could see, when she looked down, was an immense length of neck, which seemed to rise like a stalk out of a sea of green leaves that lay far below her.

As there seemed to be no chance of getting her hands up to her head, she tried to get her head down to them, and was delighted to find that her neck would bend about easily in any direction, like a serpent. She had just succeeded in curving it down into a graceful zigzag, when a sharp hiss made her draw back in a hurry: a large pigeon had flown into her face and was beating her violently with its wings.

`Serpent!’ screamed the Pigeon.
`I’m NOT a serpent!’ said Alice indignantly. `Let me alone!’
`Serpent, I say again!’ repeated the Pigeon, but in a more subdued tone, and added with a kind of sob, `I’ve tried every way, and nothing seems to suit them!’
`I haven’t the least idea what you’re talking about,’ said Alice.
`I’ve tried the roots of trees, and I’ve tried banks, and I’ve tried hedges,’ the Pigeon went on, without attending to her; `but those serpents! There’s no pleasing them!’

Alice was more and more puzzled, but she thought there was no use in saying anything more till the Pigeon had finished.

`As if it wasn’t trouble enough hatching the eggs,’ said the Pigeon; `but I must be on the look-out for serpents night and day! Why, I haven’t had a wink of sleep these three weeks! And just as I was thinking I should be free of them at last, they must needs come wriggling down from the sky! Ugh, Serpent!’

`But I’m NOT a serpent, I tell you!’ said Alice. `I’m a–I’m a–‘
`Well! WHAT are you?’ said the Pigeon. `I can see you’re trying to invent something!’
`I–I’m a little girl,’ said Alice, rather doubtfully, as she remembered the number of changes she had gone through that day.
`A likely story indeed!’ said the Pigeon in a tone of the deepest contempt. `go away!’ said the Pigeon in a sulky tone, as it settled down again into its nest.

Alice remembered that she still held the pieces of mushroom, and she set to work very carefully, nibbling first at one and then at the other, growing sometimes taller and sometimes shorter, until she had succeeded in bringing herself down to her usual height.

‘I’ve got back to my right size: the next thing is, to get into that beautiful garden– how IS that to be done, I wonder?’ As she said this, she came suddenly upon an open place, with a little house in it about four feet high. `Whoever lives there,’ thought Alice, `if I introduce myself whilst I’m at this height I would frighten them all terribly’ So she began nibbling at the righthand bit again and did not venture to go near the house till she had brought herself down to nine inches high.

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‘Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar.

One of the most recognisable characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the caterpillar. After escaping the house of the White Rabbit by shrinking to just three inches high (“a very good height indeed!”), Alice comes across the caterpillar sitting on a mushroom.

There are over 1500 different species of caterpillar, the larvae of moths and butterflies, in Staffordshire. Just like Alice in her adventures, they vary in size greatly! Youngsters of a small species can be just a millimetre long. Large species can be over 8cm in length before getting ready to change into an adult moth or butterfly – about the same size as Alice’s caterpillar. One of the largest caterpillars that can be found locally is the Elephant Hawk Moth. Named for its resemblance to an elephant’s trunk, it can be found in gardens on Fuchsia plants.


There was a large mushroom growing near her, about the same height as herself; and when she had looked under it, and on both sides of it, and behind it, it occurred to her that she might as well look and see what was on the top of it.

When Alice tastes a chunk from each side of the mushroom in an attempt to regain her original height, it’s not the first time, or last, that she risks her life in the story. Alice’s unlucky first bite causes her to shrink even further, but even outside Wonderland gambling with unidentified fungi isn’t recommended. They can be difficult to identify, with the appropriately-named Death Cap resembling several edible species. The False Death Cap is not dangerous, but is still considered unedible as it doesn’t taste very nice and isn’t worth the risk of confusing it with a Death Cap! Most fatal mushroom poisonings can be attributed to the Death Cap, with an estimated 30g being enough to kill. Survivors often require liver transplants.

The red and white toadstool of fairy-tale imagery is the Fly Agaric. It belongs to the same family as the Death Cap, Amanita. The Fly Agaric is poisonous, though deaths are rare and it is eaten in some parts of the world. Proper care and preparation is needed while cooking to break down the poisons – but don’t try this at home! It is one of many mushrooms that can cause hallucinations.

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Curiouser and Curiouser: The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill

Chapter 4

It was the White Rabbit, trotting slowly back again and looking about anxiously, as if it had lost something; it was muttering “The Duchess! The Duchess! Oh my dear paws! Oh my fur and whiskers! She’ll have me executed! Where CAN I have dropped them, I wonder?”

Alice guessed in a moment that it was looking for the fan and the pair of white kid gloves, and began hunting about for them, but they were nowhere to be seen. Very soon the Rabbit noticed Alice and called out to her in an angry tone “Why, Mary Ann, what ARE you doing out here? Run this moment and fetch me a pair of gloves and a fan! Quick, now!”

Alice was so shocked that she ran off at once in the direction it pointed to. The rabbit’s directions led to yet another room . It was filled with fans, pocket watches, and gloves of all varieties. “How queer it seems,” Alice said to herself, “to be running errands for a rabbit! I suppose Dinah’ll be sending me on messages next!”. Alice scooped up a pair of gloves and a fan and was about to leave when she noticed a bottle. She was thirsty from all the running! There was no label, just the words `DRINK ME,’ but nevertheless she uncorked it and put it to her lips. “I know SOMETHING interesting is sure to happen” she said to herself.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is drinkmebottle.png

And it did, much sooner than she had expected: before she had drunk half the bottle, she found herself becoming so tall she almost touched the ceiling. Alice could see lots of tiny rooms filled with all kinds of exquisite things, before she could begin inspecting any one room in detail, she heard a voice.

“Mary Ann! Mary Ann!” said the voice. “Fetch me my gloves this moment!” the rabbit came bounding round the corner and stopped in front of the now gigantic Alice. He staggered back and yelled “Bill! Bill! Where are you?” Alice’s head was now tilted to the side so she would not bump it on the ceiling and her arm had gone through a window-pane upstairs and her foot was stuck in the downstairs foyer doorway. “I wonder what they’ll do! I don’t want to stay like this any longer!”.

Her question was answered when she felt something touch her foot, Alice was ticklish. She squirmed and felt her foot loosen, the thing touched her foot again and she was able to squirm just enough to pull it out. When she drew back her foot a lizard stepped into the foyer, Alice had not expected this and jumped with such force that she kicked the lizard into the air; he landed with a thud on the stairs. 

As Bill tumbled back down, Alice remembered the bottle in her pocket, maybe this one would make her small again! Once she was normal height again, she could fix everything. It began to work almost immediately, and as Alice was shrinking down, down she grasped a balcony on the middle floor. She pulled herself up over the ledge and stood brushing herself off. She felt she was back to her usual size again and turned to check behind her at the bottom floor where the rabbit was with the poor little Lizard, Bill.

They started to yell at Alice and shocked she backed away, turning to see the room behind her. It was then she realized that she was still shrinking, when she had finally stopped the room was like a jungle with all the animals and scenery that spanned the space.

There was a large mushroom just ahead of her, about the same height as herself; and when she had looked under it, and on both sides of it, and behind it, it occurred to her that she might as well look and see what was on the top of it. She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom, and her eyes immediately met those of a large caterpillar, that was sitting on the top with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the smallest notice of her or of anything else.

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One of the jurors had a pencil that squeaked. This of course, Alice could not stand, and she went round the court and got behind him, and very soon found an opportunity of taking it away. She did it so quickly that the poor little juror (it was Bill, the Lizard) could not make out at all what had become of it; so, after hunting all about for it, he was obliged to write with one finger for the rest of the day; and this was of very little use, as it left no mark on the slate.

Between being kicked out of a chimney and having his squeaky pencil nabbed, poor Bill doesn’t have a very good time during Alice’s visit to Wonderland.

The lizard on display here is an exotic species – the Asian Water Monitor can be found across south east Asia, from India to Indonesia. Ours is an average size, but they can occasionally grow to around 2m in length. They mostly inhabit wetlands, swamps and mangroves, but have also adapted to the presence of humans and have been found in canals and abandoned mining pits. 

Though not a threatened species globally, it is protected under conservation laws in many countries, which should hopefully discourage people from kicking them up chimneys.


One of the most well-known of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland is the encounter with the ‘Drink Me’ bottle. Finding herself too big for a small doorway, Alice drinks the potion and shrinks to the perfect size to enter. But not before she thoroughly inspects the bottle:

It was all very well to say `Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. `No, I’ll look first,’ she said, `and see whether it’s marked “poison” or not’; for she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things … if you drink much from a bottle marked `poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.

However, this bottle was not marked `poison,’ so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off.

Eagled-eyed visitors might recognise this distinctive bottle, with its heart-shaped stopper, as it is usually on display in the Chemists Shop in our Local History gallery. It was probably intended to hold perfumes, or similar products, made by local chemists and pharmacists.

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Curiouser and Curiouser: The Caucus-Race

Chapter 3

“But what IS a Caucus-race, exactly?” asked Alice.

“Well, I think the best way to explain what a Caucus-race is, is to have a Caucus-race!” said the Dodo, already marking out a racecourse in a sort of circle. There was no: ‘ready, set, go!’. Instead, they ran whenever they liked, and left off when they liked, so it was not very easy to know when the race was over.

However, after running for half an hour or so, when everyone was dry again, the Dodo called out: “The race is over!” and all the creatures crowded around it, panting and asking: “But who has won?”
“EVERYBODY has won!” the dodo said, “and all must have prizes!”

Prizes?! All Alice could think to do was put a hand into her pocket, pull out a bag of comfits, and began handing them out. There was one each for everyone, except for Alice herself.

“But she must have a prize herself, you know!” said the Mouse.

“Of course,” the Dodo replied, very gravely indeed. “What else have you got in your pocket?”
Only a thimble,” said Alice, sadly.
“Hand it to me,” said the Dodo. They all crowded around her once more, while the Dodo presented the thimble. “We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble.”

Alice thought the whole thing to be very absurd; and being unable to conjure any words, she simply bowed and took the thimble. They found some comfy chairs and sat down again next to the ghost child, back in the now tear-less case room, and begged the mouse to tell them more stories.

“You promised to tell me your history,” Alice enquired, “you know, why it is you hate C and D?”

The mouse, clearing his throat, began to talk of all sorts of non-sensical things. Alice soon found her thoughts drifting away, thinking instead of Dinah, which lead her to say aloud, to nobody in particular: “I wish I had our Dinah here, I know I do!”

“And who is Dinah, if I might venture to ask the question?” said the Lory.
“Dinah’s our cat!” Alice replied eagerly, excited to talk about her pet. “And she’s so good at catching mice you can’t think! And oh, if you could see her after the birds! Why, she’ll eat a little bird as soon as look at it!”

Alice’s words caused a remarkable sensation among the party. Some of the birds hurried off at once. The old Magpie began wrapping itself up, while a Canary pulled its children away to bed. One after another the creatures left and Alice was alone. Here she began to cry again, for she felt very lonely and low-spirited. After a while, however, she heard a familiar pattering of footsteps in the distance. Eagerly, she looked up…

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When Alice cries a large pool of tears, she falls into the water along with birds, and other animals. Alice leads them to shore but soon upsets the party by fondly recalling the activities of her family cat.

Dinah’s our cat. And she’s such a capital one for catching mice you can’t think! And oh, I wish you could see her after the birds! Why, she’ll eat a little bird as soon as look at it!

This speech caused a remarkable sensation among the party. Some of the birds hurried off at once … a Canary called out in a trembling voice to its children, “Come away, my dears! It’s high time you were all in bed!” On various pretexts they all moved off, and Alice was soon left alone.

The real danger to the canaries used in this cage came not from cats, but from dangerous underground gases. Before electronic sensors where introduced, miners would carry a canary in a small cage. The birds were particularly sensitive to toxic gases such as carbon monoxide which is colourless, odourless and tasteless. Any sign of distress from the canary was a clear sign that the conditions were unsafe and that miners should be evacuated.

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Curiouser and Curiouser: The Pool of Tears

Chapter 2

Walking down the hall, led by even more paintings, Alice entered a room with glass cases everywhere. They were filled with all kinds of trinkets and curiosities. There were fans, bonnets, and an extravagant dress her sister would have fawned over for hours.  

Before she had chance to go further, she heard a little pattering of feet in the distance and turned to see what was coming. It was the White Rabbit, splendidly dressed, with a pair of white kid gloves in one hand and a large fan in the other, muttering under his breath as he went. “Oh! The Duchess, the Duchess! Oh! Won’t she be savage if I’ve kept her waiting!”

When the Rabbit came near enough, Alice decided to ask for his help. “If you please, sir–” The Rabbit jumped violently, dropped the gloves and the fan, and scurried away into the darkness as hard as he could go.

Alice took up the fan and gloves, the former of which came in very handy, as the hall was very hot, so she kept fanning herself. It was very rude of the Rabbit to run away!

Pursuing the rabbit, Alice continued through the room. Each case was more intriguing than the last. Clay shells. A strange pig-like creature. Giant chestnuts! She stopped when she saw the case that contained a doll’s house; it was full of rooms, beautifully decorated and a small family were seated together. Alice wondered what her family would do this evening if she didn’t make it home, thinking of suppertime also made her hungry. She reached into her pocket, ignoring the signs of ‘NO FOOD OR DRINK’ scattered along the walls, and hastily stuffed the small cake into her mouth.

As she approached a statue of a small child, Alice began to feel odd. Looking down, she also noticed that the fan in her hand was becoming bigger. Or maybe she was getting smaller? The thought of which upset her. Alice began to cry, not noticing the pool of tears forming around her feet – nor did Alice notice that with every tear shed, she was beginning to get smaller and smaller, until all at once, she was small enough to be swept up by the river of tears and carried away.

All kinds of unusual objects floated past Alice in the river of tears, she gasped out loud when porcelain creatures that had multiple heads and human features passed her by. She was so caught up in the magical beings that she didn’t notice the mouse until he had already passed her by. She called out to him hoping he could help: “Mouse, do you know the way out of this pool? I am very tired of swimming about here”. The mouse sniffed but said nothing. “If only I hadn’t gotten so upset about my cat Dinah” the mouse leapt out of the water with fright and Alice realized her mistake as he went.

“Mouse, dear! Come back! And we won’t talk about cats if you don’t like them!”

The mouse thought for a second and replied, “Let us get to the shore, and then I’ll tell you my history, and you’ll understand why I hate cats and dogs.”

Along the way, they gathered many other animals that had been caught in the stream of Alice’s tears. There was a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and several other creatures.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” exclaimed Alice as they all climbed out of the river. The Mouse, who seemed to be a person of authority among them, called out:

“Sit down, all of you, and listen to me!”

They all sat down at once, in a large ring, with the Mouse in the middle. But everybody was awfully wet and not at all ready for a story. It was decided they would have a Caucus race to get themselves dry.

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Folding Fan
J. Duvelleroy, London
white satin with wooden sticks

The Rabbit started violently, dropped the white kid gloves and the fan, and skurried away into the darkness as hard as he could go. Alice took up the fan and gloves, and, as the hall was very hot, she kept fanning herself all the time she went on talking: `Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day!

The history of the fan stretches back at least 3,000 years. The folding type of fan dropped by the White Rabbit was originally developed in China and Japan. From the 17th century onwards, folding fans were exported in large numbers to Europe, where they became an important fashion accessory. Often highly decorative and made of silk, lace, feathers or wood, fans followed the fashion trends of the day. Painting and decorating your own fan was very popular in the late 19th century and plain white fans such as this example were sold by famous firms such as Duvelleroy for this purpose

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Curiouser and Curiouser: Down the Rabbit Hole

Chapter 1

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and having nothing to do. Once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice “without pictures or conversation?”

the white rabbit holding a pocket watch, illustrated by John Tenniel

She was roused from her sleepy contemplation when a white rabbit bounded from a hedge, and as it flashed past her, she could have sworn she had heard it say `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’. She shook her head as if to knock the silly thought away, but when the Rabbit actually TOOK A WATCH OUT OF ITS WAISTCOAT- POCKET, and looked at it, before hurrying on, Alice started to her feet, for it crossed her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it. Burning with curiosity, she ran across the field, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. Without a thought she jumped in after it.

a selection of pocket-watches from the museum collections

Either the hole was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything; then she looked at the sides of the well and noticed that they were filled with watercolour paintings. There were birds and trees, buildings and flowers. There were flowers Alice had never seen, paintings of some so realistic Alice felt she could build a chain from the daisies on the page. There was even a cat that reminded her of Dinah.

Without warning the fall was over, but Alice was unhurt and seeing the rabbit round the corner ahead she hurried along after him; and turning the corner she let out a gasp. The hall she had stepped into was covered in yet more paintings; faces stared back at her from every wall. Women more beautiful than she had ever seen, lovers embracing and picnics in the park.

Alice passed by a painting of a small girl that looked a lot like her, she thought, and stopped to investigate it. The girl had on a white dress with a blue bow, her yellow hair hung down around her face, upon which was an expression Alice couldn’t quite decipher. Behind her head were more painted flowers, delicate little stars of yellow and white.

To the side of this painting was a small glass table upon which lay three objects; a key, a glass bottle bearing the words Drink me and a small glass box labelled Eat me. Alice placed the items in her pocket deciding she may need them later and continued down the hall, noting the intricate paintings as she went. At the very end of the hall was a tiny door and Alice thought of the key in her pocket, pinching the key between her fingers she fiddled with the tiny lock until the door sprang open, she peeked inside and saw a garden unlike anything she had seen. She would never fit through this door but was sure she could see something on the opposite side. She had to find it!

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Pocket Watch

The first creature Alice encounters in Wonderland is a very well-dressed White Rabbit…

… but when the Rabbit actually TOOK A WATCH OUT OF ITS WAISTCOAT- POCKET, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it…

Pocket watches have been a fashionable accessory since their invention in the 16th century, though early pocket watches were in fact worn as pendants on a chain. King Charles II is thought to have popularised the men’s fashion of wearing a watch in a pocket when he introduced the waistcoat to male court dress in 1675. Special pockets were made in the waistcoat to accommodate the pocket watch . By the 19th century, pocket watches were often secured by an ‘Albert’ watch chain – named after Prince Albert (1819-1861), who was consort to Queen Victoria (1837-1901). On one end of the chain is a small swivel clasp that attaches to a pocket watch. The swivel clasp allows the wearer to rotate the watch and keep the chain from twisting. At the other end of the chain is a T-shaped bar which loops through a buttonhole in the waistcoat for security.

Childhood, c.1875-1876
William Wise (1847–1889)
oil on board

The themes of childhood and growing up are explored through the character of Alice as she experiences many physical changes during her adventures in Wonderland.

`Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); `now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was!

But if I’m not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah, THAT’S the great puzzle!’ And she began thinking over all the children she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she could have been changed for any of them.

These themes played a key part in the development of what is sometimes called the ‘Cult of Childhood’ in the 19th century, with the idea of childhood being not only celebrated in literature, but also in the arts. William Wise was a designer at Minton’s China works and his painting of a young girl is a good example of this. He has painted white lilies in the background to symbolize the innocence and the fleeting nature of childhood.

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