The New Belfry

Christ Church Tom Quad, looking south towards the Hall with the temporary belfry mounted on top of it

In 1972 the Christ Church College Cathedral belfry showed damages which made it necessary to rehouse its bells elsewhere. Driven by Dean Henry George Liddel, the New Belfry project started in 1872. The new bell tower was to be placed at the top right corner of Tom Quad, above the staircase to the dining hall. Alas, money run out and a very simple big wooden cube served as the new temporary belfry. It was so simple that C.L. Dodgson associated it with, among other shapes, a new design pattern for bonnet-boxes and bathing-machines. Later it was clad in stones, behind which that economy belfry shyly went into hiding behind the walls (built from 1876 to 1879) we can see today.

The new temporary belfry was simple, but inspiring:

[The New Belfry of Christ Church, Oxford] is of the best of Dodgson’s Oxford squibs, a good humored but cutting attack on Dean Liddell (the father of Alice) and the wooden cube built to contain the Cathedral bells during operations to build a new tower. Though it can still be found today behind the stone walls of the tower, the wooden cube was always a temporary plan but Dodgson was impatient and the Governing body were slow.

Source: Cristies, 2009-12-04

The Bell in The Hunting of the Snark might be interpreted as a symbol for time and time pressure. But it also might have been used by C.L. Dodgson to continue lampooning Dean Henry Liddell‘s belfry project.

More about a simple design with a focus on bell tingeling:

101    “Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
102        But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
103    (So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best—
104        A perfect and absolute blank!”

105    This was charming, no doubt; but they shortly found out
106        That the Captain they trusted so well
107    Had only one notion for crossing the ocean,
108        And that was to tingle his bell

The Snark was fond of bathing-machines:

161    “The fourth is its fondness for bathing-machines,
162        Which it constantly carries about,
163    And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes—
164        A sentiment open to doubt.

Another reference by Carroll to bathing-machines: The New Belfry of Christ Church:

§ 7. On the impetus given to Art in England by the new Belfry, Ch. Ch.

The idea has spread far and wide, and is rapidly pervading all branches of manufacture. Already an enterprising maker of bonnet-boxes is advertising ‘the Belfry pattern’: two builders of bathing-machines at Ramsgate have followed his example: one of the great London houses is supplying ‘bar-soap’ cut in the same striking and symmetrical form: and we are credibly informed that Borwick’s Baking Powder and Thorley’s Food for Cattle are now sold in no other shape.

See also: Running Out Of Place: The Language and Architecture of Lewis Carroll (2005) by Caroline Dionne

Carroll/Dodgson went beyond writing squibs:

One small part of Dodgson’s work, though, has impressed social scientists: his analysis of the mathematics of voting. His interest in the topic was sparked by the deliberations of his colleagues at Christ Church over such matters as how to choose a new belfry. Dodgson’s pamphlets on voting were largely ignored until 1958, when a British economist, Duncan Black, noticed that there had been nothing so good on the topic since just after the French Revolution., 2009

Ostensibly, [Dodgson] was pondering the best way for the governing body of Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a tutor in mathematics, to decide on the design for a controversial belfry, and to pick new members of the college. […] For college elections, Dodgson first proposed a version of Borda’s method, and also a version of Condorcet’s (though he appears not to have known about Borda’s and Condorcet’s work). Later, he developed an interest in politics beyond the walls of Christ Church, and, in the eighteen-eighties, he tried to find ways to secure equitable representation in Parliament for minorities., 2010

Dodgson’s method of taking votes on more than two issues (1876) attempts to find winners in case initially there is no winner. The method was applied at Christ Church college for a small number of candidates. However, for large lists of choices, the rearranging of candidates (until a winner is found) requires a computing power which surely was not available then. And even today it is a challenge (see McCabe-Dansted below).

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