Some years ago I visited the church at Croft on Tees, where Carroll's father was the incumbent for many years. The family lived in the big rectory which still sits across the road from the church, and would have attended the church several times a week. Undoubtedly the children would have been very familiar with everything inside the church, which has a most interesting and unusual interior (and links also with Byron).

What I'd forgotten is that the church also has this curious figure.


It is of course claimed to be a cat, smiling, but I'd say it is likely to be the head of one of those medieval strange beasts which are found so often in old churches. (I often look out for a book which will explain what all these things in churches are, but have never yet found one)

Yet, though I don't think its makers intended it to be a Cheshire cat, it is certain that the Dodgson children would have seen it week after week, year after year, and Carroll may well have amused the others by weaving a story about it being some kind of a Cheshire cat. The family had after all moved to Croft from Cheshire. And apparently, when you stand up, the cat's "grin" can no longer be seen - it disappears.

He's known to have woven information about things around him into the stories he told to children, and I like to think of him gathering his brothers and sisters around and amusing them, too, with stories about this strange character in their father's church. I want to revisit Croft, to see what else I can spot, although goodness knows when I will next have the chance to do so.