Wonderland At Babacombe

Thanks to Stephen Martin for the following:-
I recently watched the first truly classic ghost story film The Uninvited(1944) which a friend had taped for me from the Talking Pictures channel but I made a startling discovery in the opening sequence. The film begins with a brother and sister getting lost on a coastal walk along a stretch of (Hollywood) Devon: they discover an empty house, their dog chases a squirrel into the house, they give chase too, and enter a nursery room which is full of painted scenes from Alice in Wonderland shown in the video clips above and to the left. The name of the fictional place is Biddlecombe but this, I believe, is the writer or directors reference to a real Devon  mystery.

The house “Babbacombe Cliff”, situated close to Torquay in South Devon, was according to one source designed by John Ruskin but its date of construction is unclear but prior to 1862. The interior decoration was designed by William Morris and its stain glass windows designed by Edward Burne Jones. Lord Mount Temple bought the house in 1874 as a summer retreat, when he died in 1888 his wife lived there permanently until her death on 17th October 1901.

The room known as “Wonderland” was Lady Mount Temple’s personal boudoir: beneath the rooms window was a huge archway, gated with a mock portcullis. It was generally thought that the “Wonderland” room was decorated with scenes from Alice in Wonderland (as in the film) but it may have acquired its name because the walls were full of Pre- Raphaelite paintings- works by Burne Jones and Rossetti, including his famous spiritual masterpiece ‘Beata Beatrix’ (now in the Tate gallery, London), which supposedly must have filled the spectator with wonder.

Oscar Wilde was able to borrow the house when Lady Mount Temple was not in residence and stayed in 1892 accompanied by Alfred Douglas and his Oxford tutor Campbell Dodgson (a distant cousin to CLD). Dodgson recorded his response to the house: “I gasped, amazed. This is a lovely house, full of surprises and curious rooms, with suggestions of Rossetti at every turn”, and of ‘Wonderland’: “the most artistic of all rooms”.
     Along the main road at the top of Babbacombe Down I found a statue of Lady Mount Temple holding a dove above a small fountain, erected to commemorate her association with the town and for her charity work.
     ‘Babbacombe Cliff’ is a grade II listed building, it has been a 34 room hotel but it has now been converted into flats.

Stephen Martin