One of the benefits (?) of the past few months has been the opportunity to go through things – old photos, clothes, knick-knacks, and for those of us that have blogs drafts. I began working on the photos for this one back in September after our return from England. So from a time long ago and far away (September 17, 2019) here’s a memory of a glorious day in Kensington Gardens.
My first trip to London was in June of 1969. I arrived there the evening of the 22nd and checked into my hotel on Bayswater Road. The hotel and the area was no longer fashionable but still had a slightly tatty elegance and it was on the edge of Kensington Gardens. That trip was the beginning of my love affair with London and I wrote about it here. The reason I remember the exact date is because at the included breakfast (full English with – god help me – blood pudding) the first morning the newspaper revealed that Judy Garland had died from an overdose the evening before.
After that breakfast – no I did not eat the blood pudding! – my first mission was to head across the road and into Kensington Gardens in search of Peter Pan! Or at least the statue that had been erected by James M. Barrie to commemorate his most famous creation.
I won’t go into my fascination with Peter Pan but let us just say that since childhood I have been
obsess captured by Barrie’s tale of “the Boy who would never grow up”. I was very fond of the Disney cartoon but not terribly enamoured of the Mary Martin musical that showed up on television. Over time I came to realize that Disney’s version was, well Disneyfied – too pretty, too sweet, too American for lack of a better word – and really only the Captain Hook voiced by Hans Conried came close to Barrie’s creation. I’ve since come to appreciate Barrie’s original version with all its overtones that suggest a darkness that he may or may not have meant – though Barrie was such a strange complicated little man that it’s hard to tell.
But I digress, again! On our September trip we were staying in Bayswater (now returned to much of its upper middle class Edwardian glory) and choose to spend a good part of our full day in London wandering through Kensington Palace and the Gardens. And once again I went in search of Peter Pan.
“There is a surprise in store for the children who go to Kensington Gardens to feed the ducks in the Serpentine this morning. Down by the little bay on the south-western side of the tail of the Serpentine they will find a May-day gift by Mr J.M. Barrie, a figure of Peter Pan blowing his pipe on the stump of a tree, with fairies and mice and squirrels all around. It is the work of Sir George Frampton, and the bronze figure of the boy who would never grow up is delightfully conceived.”The Times of London
May 1, 1912
Today we are chiefly familiar with Peter Pan through Barrie’s 1904 stage play and the subsequent novelization as Peter and Wendy in 1911. However Peter Pan first appeared in Barrie’s 1902 novel The Little White Bird as a seven-day-old new born. This rather strange book is a mixture of travelogue, fantasy, children’s story and possibly autobiography and is set primarily in Bayswater, where Barrie lived, and the nearby Kensington Gardens.
Barrie introduces the Royal Park by telling us that “all perambulators lead to Kensington Gardens” as the favoured destination of nursery maids and new mothers. And in The Little White Bird the infant Peter flies out of the nursery window on Bayswater Road and lands at the small bay on the west bank of the Long Water of the Serpentine that divide the Gardens from Hyde Park: the exact spot where the statue now stands. There Peter became friends with the fairies and woodland creatures that lived in the park. The Gardens were first recorded as the abode of fairies by Thomas Tickell in his 1722 poem Kensington Gardens. Most of Peter’s adventures with them take place after “Lock-Out time” when the gates of the Garden are closed.
The 14th foot high statue was commissioned by Barrie and executed by Sir George Frampton. The life-size Peter is the eight year old boy of the play rather than the infant of the novel. It was to be modelled on a photo Michael Llewelyn Davies who had been Barrie’s inspiration for Peter Pan. However Frampton substituted another model and Barrie felt he had missed the devilish edge to Peter’s character.
Barrie had the bronze erected secretly on the Long Water the evening of April 30, 1912, without fanfare and, more importantly, without permission. He wanted it to seem that the fairies had created it overnight. It’s sudden appearance was announced in the Times on the morning of May 1, 1912. He then donated it to the city of London over the objection of many who felt it was unseemly of him to advertise his works with a statue that had been erected without permission in a public park.
Peter is surrounded by fairies, squirrels, mice and rabbits. A close look at the fairies suggests that Frampton may have taken a few Edwardian chorus girls as his models for the lasses of fairydom.
As well as the original Frampton made six other full-sized casts of the bronze as well as a series of small reproductions. Two of the full-size versions are located at parks in Canada. One in Bowering Park, St John’s Newfoundland, erected 1925 as a tribute to Betty Munn, who had died aged three on 23 February 1918 in the sinking of SS Florizel. The other was installed 1929 in what is now Glen Gould Park in Toronto. One of the small casts was sold for £60,000 at auction in 2016.
The original setting for the statue was a mound of grass just off the walkway along the Long Water. In 2019 the Royal Parks, a charity that manages the 5,000 acres that make up the eight Royal Parks in London, felt that the statue would show better and be more approachable if elevated. It was restored and mounted on a stone step plinth and the site landscaped to provide “a garden that evokes the ‘magic’ of Peter Pan”. There was some resistance from Barrie’s family who felt that the original intent of the statue had been breached. I tend to agree with them – some of the magic has been lost and the fantasy distanced making it just another statue in the park.
The word for June 5th is:
Fairy /ˈfɛːri/: [noun]
1. A small imaginary being of human form that has magical powers, especially a female one.
2. Offensive term for a male homosexual.
Middle English (denoting fairyland, or fairies collectively): from Old French faerie, from fae, ‘a fairy’, from Latin fata ‘the Fates’, plural of fatum.
I always liked the English phrase “away with the fairies.” to suggest being mad, distracted, in another world.