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Friday, 4 March 2016

Pan in the Park

Peter Pan, statue, Kensington Gardens, London, W2

Peter Pan flew away from his nursery and landed beside the Long Water in London’s Kensington Gardens.  And there, on the very spot, Scottish author J M Barrie decided to erect a statue to his creation.  It has been there since 1912, the boy who wouldn’t grow up frozen forever in bronze, surrounded by adoring mice, squirrels, bunnies and – of course – fairies.  Do not say you don’t believe in them; clap your hands…don’t let Tink die!

The statue of Peter Pan in London’s Kensington Gardens is one of the capital’s icons.  Perhaps not quite on a par with the Houses of Parliament or the spot where I once saw in the New Year, but Peter Pan has a justifiable place in our affections.  Even so, unless you’re an enthusiast, or doing research, you probably wouldn’t go far out of your way to see his statue; however, if you’re wandering across Kensington Gardens, it is definitely a thing to do. 

Peter Pan, statue, Kensington Gardens, London, W2

Queue up and snap fast to avoid the almost inevitable photobomber.  You barely get the chance to wind back the imagination to apparently more innocent times, when all perambulators headed for Kensington Gardens, wheeled by the nannies of the filthy rich.  You try to picture the curious genius that was J M Barrie befriending the Llewelyn Davies boys who, we are told, inspired the tales of Neverland and gave their names to several of the characters – not least the Great Pan himself.  ‘Wendy’, incidentally, is an entirely fabricated name – a corruption of ‘Friendly’, inspired by a youngster who had trouble with the letter ‘R’.

Peter Pan, statue, Kensington Gardens, London, W2

James Matthew Barrie (Sir James, as he became) was born in Kirriemuir in 1860 and was a successful writer long before Peter Pan made his first appearance.  This was within a novel, The Little White Bird (in which he lands next to the Long Water), published in 1902.  The play Peter Pan or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up came out in 1904, followed in 1906 by Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (reproducing the relevant chapters from Little White Bird) and, in 1911, Peter Pan and Wendy, which was the novel of the play.  Barrie’s relationship with the young Llewelyn Davies boys, George, John, Peter, Michael and Nicholas and their mother, Sylvia, has been a matter of debate.  The boys’ father, Arthur, died in 1907 and Sylvia, daughter of Gerald du Maurier, died in 1910.  Barrie had helped the family financially and became one of the boys’ guardians.  George was killed in 1915 fighting in the Great War, Michael drowned himself in 1921 and Peter, who apparently came to resent what he called “that terrible masterpiece” jumped under a train at Sloane Square in 1960.  John and Nicolas (Nico) died of natural causes in 1959 and 1980, respectively.

Peter Pan, statue, Kensington Gardens, London, W2

It seems an egotistical thing to do, to commission a statue of one of your creations.  Allegedly, Barrie had it erected overnight, without telling anyone.  He had influential friends, but that does seem pushing it a bit.  Still, I guess Barrie had good reason to feel proud of Peter, the Lost Boys, Tinkerbell, Hook and all the rest.  It is a magical tale, which still captures the imagination in this cynical, digital, age; though the plot and the characters are not without an intriguing element of darkness.  The Disney cartoon, Peter Pan, produced in 1953, is a highly sanitised version of the story.  Barrie said of the statue that it “doesn’t show the devil in Peter”, which must have disappointed its sculptor, Sir George Frampton, no end.

Barrie strikes me as a troubled soul.  He died in 1937, but in 1929 generously gave the copyright of Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.  There’s another Peter Pan statue there, as well as others in Sefton Park, Liverpool, in Perth, Australia, Brussels, New Jersey, Newfoundland and Toronto.

J M Barrie

The character – and the author- have inspired countless books, TV productions and films, not least the aforementioned cartoon, Steven Spielberg’s enjoyable romp, Hook (1991) and the slightly sugary fictional Finding Neverland (2004) starring Johnny Depp as Barrie and Kate Winslet as Sylvia.

Should you visit the statue, Royal Parks have installed a little gismo that reacts with your smartphone.  Swipe your ‘phone to get a personal call-back from Peter Pan.  Creepy. I gave it a miss - it seemed like a rather odd thing to want to do.


Finally, fans of Downton Abbey will be delighted to remember that Peter Pan’s statue is where Lady Mary delivered the devastating news to Charles Blake that she was having no more of him.  Visit ABit About Britain for exciting tales from history, personal rants and tawdry social gossip.

37 comments:

  1. Some history for my long lost childhood

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  2. Beautiful statue...he needs to come here to my garden to be with my girl statue! She could be Tink!

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  3. It sounds like a darkish tale, fictional and real. How sad. The Tink I knew had far too many teeth to be anything but scary. I do have the original version at home and will have to re-read it to the grands sometime, right after Scottish Chiefs. Anyway, I still don't know what Mary Crawley was thinking to refuse Charles Blake! Did she know he could sing and fly a Spitfire? (Maybe even at the same time) Nice post. I'm sorry you didn't swipe your phone, however ;-)

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  4. This is a beautiful looking statue - I'm not sure whether I would have swiped my phone either! ... but you've just got to believe in fairies ... so magical!

    Have a lovely weekend

    All the best Jan

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  5. I'll have to track down the Pan statue in Toronto the next time I'm there.

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  6. I went past the Peter Pan sculpture here yesterday - in a fine covering of snow. I've always liked it!

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  7. Wait! Which one of her THOUSAND suitors was Charles? :-)

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  8. Even though it's not true to his life story but my favorite movie on Barrie is the Finding Neverland with Johnnie Depp. It's cute. (I know, that's all girly ... ha ha) I love the story of Peter Pan and all his gang. Thank you for helping to bring more of it to life. ~:)

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  9. I would have skipped the call from Peter....I agree, it does seem creepy.

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  10. I'll have to watch for it if I'm ever walking through Kensington Gardens again.

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  11. Like most people I'm familiar with the story of Peter Pan, but I appreciate you filling me in on this background. Somehow I missed that statue when I was in the neighborhood.

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  12. When I was a long-haired student in London in the early seventies I had a hippy friend who regularly made pilgrimages to the statue and he swore that it spoke to him even then - no Smartphone required! The Wendy family lived in Haslingfield near me, Thomas Wendy having made the family fortune as Royal Physician to four monarchs back in the 17th century. One of the neighbouring grand families, though I can't recall which one, used the name Wendy as a forename but for boys. There is also a village called Wendy not far from here.

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    1. Other sources say Wendy was a shortened form of Gwendolyn. The JM Barrie propaganda is more powerful, possibly.

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  13. Thanks Mike - that's another one on my list for London. It is a very pretty statue, in an Edwardian sort of way, but I'll pass on the phone call too.
    So funny, 'the place where I saw in the new year' - you do crack me up, as we Aussies say :)

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  14. Have you seen the play Peter and Alice? Gives a different perspective on the plays from the adults who were the inspiration for the characters of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

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  15. Until reading this post, I didn't know much about J.M. Barrie. It's always interesting to learn something about the background of a story, book, film or else. I had not known that Peter Pan's first appearance was as a minor (?) character in another book.
    As a child, like many others of my generation, I only knew the Disney version of the story. I liked Tinkerbell most of all characters in the film. Wendy was just too good to be true, I never wanted to "be" her.

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  16. Way back in the days of the News Chronicle (a daily newspaper) I was a member of their I Spy Club and had the book I Spy the Sights of London. This statue was one of the sights!

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  17. Very interesting! And a lot of tradegy behind the story it seems...

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  18. Great story of interest. We all seem familiar with Peter Pan until we read this wonderful in depth article, thanks Mike. I've not seen the statue but it looks quite amazing, especially the base with so many things going on beneath Peter. Agree though about the phone call - very odd!

    Hope life is good Mike and that Spring will arrive before too long in Britain - weather sounds quite ominous across much of the green and scepter'd isle lately!

    Mary -

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  19. This too is right out of my own childhood too. I also know this place well from our visit there a few years ago! We toured Kensington Palace too of course, and hours outside!

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  20. A call back from Peter Pan.. no thanks Mike :) I love this sculpture, we have the very same one, sent out from England by the sculptor, sitting in Queens Park. Definitely one of my favourite sculptures around town, the details are wonderful.

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  21. A call back from Peter Pan.. no thanks Mike :) I love this sculpture, we have the very same one, sent out from England by the sculptor, sitting in Queens Park. Definitely one of my favourite sculptures around town, the details are wonderful.

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  22. On one of our first trips to London, many years ago, I had to search out Peter Pan's statue. Egotistical or not I loved it.
    I liked the movies about Barrie's relationship with the "boys", Finding Neverland with Johnny Depp.

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  23. Tragic story about those boys! Nice statue though.

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  24. Very interesting. I did not know the history of Pan.
    Thank you!

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  25. I love your tawdry and non tawdry gossip! I haven't ever read the book, don't know why! It is great that it was given to GOSH though, I am sure that it has done a lot of good for them.

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  26. I had no idea that Peter Pan had so much distress associated with it. Two suicides in five children is pretty serious.

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  27. I have a faint memory of walking through a park to find this statue... And I don't remember the statue at all... I guess the beauty is in the search...

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  28. Interesting. Apparently, Barrie was a troubled character at times as in his childhood he had a brother who died young( his mother's favourite) and she often confused him with the dead child he could never match up to in his own mind.(the lost boy) Some of our greatest artists inspiration came from emotional conflict or childhood memories that never went away and were reworked later, almost unconsciously, as a form of D.I.Y therapy. Lewis Carroll springs to mind and Alice L, another much loved favourite with a darker edge behind it :o)

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    1. Yes - I'd read that. The little bit of research I did made me want to know more. Complex kind of guy.

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  29. A joy to read your story. Have to remember to go and find the statue when I am next in London.

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  30. An interesting statue. I have been to Kensington gardens but I didn't know the statue was there.

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  31. Hi Mike - Peter Pan was an annual theatre event in our life, and will always be a film to watch - I should read the book again ... the library calls.

    What an interesting character and all the additional knowledge you've given us - I've never seen the statute - but definitely must make a 'pilgrimage' ... I didn't know the back story or the influences ... but I did know he'd given the royalties to Great Ormond Street hospital - for that I'm glad ...

    Cheers Hilary

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  32. Everyone in America loves Peter Pan and Hollywood seems to run out of plots and plans so they keep trying to recreate their version of Peter Pan. Yes, I admit I am one of those fans of Downton Abbey.

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  33. I've never somehow taken to Barrie, although, like most kids, I loved Peter Pan. I read a memoir he wrote about his mother which was deeply sentimental in a way I found completely offputting. But I always feel you can't really judge books by the people who have written them! I don't like the statue very much, to be honest, but never realised that he'd commissioned it himself and erected it in that way.

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  34. I never thought about what happened to the family after their mother died. I remember seeing the film with Johnny Depp (no, not personally!) and was so upset with the mother dying. How sad that some of the children had horrible endings. Thanks for teaching us the history of this statue, I must have walked past so many times.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.