When people hear the name Peter Pan they immediately think of the 1953 Disney animated movie. Many are not aware that before Walt Disney and his staff brought the characters of Peter, Wendy, and Captain Hook to life on the big screen, they were characters in a play created by Scottish novelist and playwright J.M. Barrie. The story of Barrie and his Peter Pan was artfully depicted in the 2004 film Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp as the playwright himself.
J.M. Barrie’s inspiration for Peter Pan and the Lost Boys of Neverland came from the Llewelyn-Davies family, specifically the five sons of parents Arthur and Sylvia. Barrie first became acquainted with the family in 1897 after meeting the three oldest boys with their nurse in London’s Kensington Gardens. Barrie lived nearby and often walked his Saint Bernard in the park (supposedly the inspiration for the character of Nana). Barrie soon became entrenched with the family, endearing himself to the boys with his playful antics and engaging stories. The character of Peter Pan was supposedly created to entertain the two oldest Llewlyn-Davies boys. Barrie would say as a means of fun, that their little brother Peter could fly. He claimed that before they were born, babies were birds; parents put bars on nursery windows to keep young children from flying away. This eventually developed into the story of a baby boy who did fly away.
Following the death of Arthur in 1907, Barrie became more involved with the family, including providing financial support. After Sylvia’s death in 1910, Barrie was named a trustee and guardian of the boys and would serve as their surrogate parent during their childhood and adolescence as well as a close figure throughout their lives.
Visitors to London can check out some sites affiliated with Barrie and his beloved Peter Pan.
-Peter Pan statue (Kensington Gardens)
On my second visit to London I set out to visit the original Peter Pan statue after having learned about it in a TV movie. It’s located in Kensington Gardens, which is one of London’s royal parks. Although I visited on a weekday in January, when I wouldn’t think there would ever be crowds of people, the park was deserted and the area around the statue completely empty, which only contributed to its overall charm. Barrie chose the exact location of the statue. In his Peter Pan tale The Little White Bird, Peter flies out of his nursery and lands beside the Long Water Lake, the spot where the statue now stands. The statue was erected on May 1, 1912 and was recreated from photos of Michael Llewelyn-Davies wearing a Peter Pan costume.
-Great Ormond Street Hospital (Bloomsbury)
In 1929 the largest center for research into childhood illness outside the United States and Canada received the rights from Barrie to his play Peter Pan, which today continues to provide significant funding for the institution. When the copyright originally expired at the end of 1987, the United Kingdom government granted the hospital a perpetual right to collect royalties for public performances, commercial publication, or other communications to the public of the work. The hospital’s museum is open by appointment only but houses editions of Peter Pan from all over the world in many different languages.
-Duke of York’s Theater (West End)
On December 27, 1904 the theatrical production of Barrie’s play about the boy who wouldn’t grow up debuted here. The theater opened in 1892 as the Trafalgar Square Theater and in 1895 became the Duke of York’s to honor the future King George V.
-100 Bayswater Road (Lancaster Gate tube stop)
This is the former home of Barrie and also where he wrote Peter Pan. The house is located opposite Kensington Gardens, where in 1897 Barrie first met the three oldest Llewelyn-Davies boys. A small plaque informs visitors of the home’s historical significance.