peter panspeter pan in kensington gardensPETER PAN IN KENSINGTON GARDENS – Here at Balladeer’s Blog I like to cover neglected items, even when it comes to popular subjects like Peter Pan. Before the figure became established in the public consciousness as the leader of the Lost Boys in Neverland, J.M. Barrie presented Peter in a very different form.

Six chapters of Barrie’s 1902 work The Little White Bird were devoted to his original concept for Peter Pan and presented his lair as London’s Kensington Gardens rather than Neverland. Instead of the dog Nana there was the dog Porthos, and instead of Wendy Darling there was Maimie Mannering, but still with the kiss/ thimble bit of business.

pp in kensington gardensThis was followed by the 1904 stage play about Peter Pan, which established the more well-known lore regarding the character. In 1906, the six chapters from The Little White Bird were published in a separate book as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. That was followed by the 1911 novelized version of the 1904 play, with the novel adding some finishing touches to Peter Pan lore.

J.M. Barrie invented a detailed mythology for this first rendition of his renowned figure. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens tells us that babies are hatched from eggs laid by birds on the island in Serpentine Lake inside Kensington Gardens. Within a very short time Solomon Caw, a crow who is the leader of all the birds in the Gardens, delivers those baby birds destined to become children to the mothers who wrote to him requesting them.

Obviously, this concept owes a little to the folklore regarding storks delivering human babies, but Barrie elaborated on his variation by stating that in their first several days of infancy, the delivered baby birds become completely human, shedding their wings, etc.

peter pan flying at seven days oldPeter Pan was a precocious newborn, and when he was only seven days old he did what no other baby had ever done. His thirst for adventure prompted him to go to his bedroom’s open window and fly away. Rather than use happy thoughts and fairy dust, this Peter flies purely because of his adamantine belief that he CAN fly.Β 

Ultimately, Peter lands in Kensington Gardens, where fairies and other enchanted figures come out to play after the gates are closed around sunset.

solomon caw and peterThe fairies are at first hostile toward the seemingly human child, because humans are not supposed to be in the Gardens after closing time. Eventually, Peter winds up on the island in the Serpentine Lake, where Solomon Caw pronounces the child a “betwixt and between” – a mix of human and bird.

During an encounter with Queen Mab of the fairies, Peter Pan comes to fleetingly doubt his ability to fly, and we are told that once anyone doubts that they can fly, they forever lose the ability. Peter thus becomes stranded on the island, never growing up because he flew away from home before gaining all of his human attributes.

Pan has a series of adventures with the island birds, who help raise Peter under Solomon’s leadership. He quickly loses the taste for worms but is happy to eat whatever pieces of bread the birds bring to him.

swans and peterOne day a child in the Gardens loses their kite in the sky, and when it crash lands on the island of the birds, Peter Pan tries to use the kite to fly off the island so he can reach the Gardens proper, where there is much more room to play. Peter rides the kite but crashes partway across the lake, needing help from a pair of swans to get him back to the island before he drowns.

At length, the poet Shelley is walking along the lake and folds a five-pound note into a tiny ship, then lets it sail off on the waters. The note finds its way into Peter’s possession, and the birds tell him it is part of the currency that humans use.

Pan then “pays” thrushes to build a nest large enough for him to sit in and use it as a boat to cross the lake and return to the Gardens proper. Since neither he nor the birds really understand how money works, they accept their pay in small pieces of the five-pound note that Peter cuts off of it.

peter pan in birds nest boatThe large nest gets our hero back to shore, where he survives a hostile encounter with fairies and goes on to become accepted by them as a regular denizen of Kensington Gardens. Like them, Pan must hide during the day and only come out to play after closing time.

By night, Peter plays and frolics with the fairies and animals of the Gardens and there are periodic sightings of him by pedestrians walking outside the closed park after dark. At sunrise, Pan uses his nest-boat to return to the island of the birds, rowing his way there with a child’s toy shovel as an oar.

Peter Pan grows to great prominence among the fairies and animals after he fashions a pan pipe for himself out of reeds, handfuls of moonlight, the whistle of the wind and the ripples on the lake. Peter’s musical performances were a wildly popular addition to the frolics of the fairies.

pan pipesOne night, Queen Mab was so moved by Pan’s music that she offered to grant him two wishes. He wishes to be able to fly one last time so that he could return to visit his mother. On his first visit to see her, he sees that she is still crying over his disappearance, and he can’t bring himself to talk to her.

The next time he works up the nerve to fly to his old home to visit his mother he sees that the window to his former room is now barred and that his mother has had a second child. Sad that she has apparently moved on, Peter returns to Kensington Gardens for good.

Decades go by, and Pan has become a fixture of the nocturnal antics in the Gardens. A four-year-old girl named Maimie Mannering and her older brother Tony often dream of meeting the legendary Peter Pan.

Tony frequently boasts that one day he will hide in Kensington Gardens near closing time so that he can witness the activities of the fairies and see Peter himself. Tony is all talk, however, and Maimie eventually grows disgusted and hides in the park herself one winter’s day.

maimie manneringEmerging after dark, Maimie partakes in a few adventures, like saving a female fairy named Brownie from drowning, then happily witnessing her marriage to the Duke of Christmas Daisies. Maimie is even the first child that the fairies build a tiny house for. She teaches Peter Pan the proper way of playing children’s games, because Peter had never seen actual children at play, and he had the games all wrong.

They exchange many kisses aka “thimbles” and Peter asks Maimie to marry him. The pair seriously contemplate it, but it would mean Maimie would have to move into Kensington Gardens and hide after dark, rowing with Peter over to the island of the birds at sunrise.

Maimie decides that she would miss her mother too much and sadly declines Pan’s proposal of marriage. She returns home but she and her brother continue to visit the Gardens with their mother, like all the other children. Maimie establishes the custom of hiding letters for Peter Pan along with toys for him.

One of the gifts that the girl gives to Peter is her imaginary pet goat. After dark, Maimie had taken to mimicking the sound that goats make to scare her brother Tony when he was sleeping.

peter pan riding his goatMaimie was ordered to get rid of the imaginary goat, so she left a letter in Kensington Gardens telling Peter she was passing the goat on to him. The fairies teach Pan how to convert the goat from being imaginary to being real, and Peter took to riding the goat like a horse after closing time, galloping around the Gardens while playing his pan pipes.

Barrie does some tongue-in-cheek “scholarly observations” about the goat being new to the lore surrounding Peter Pan. His research indicates that, although everyone’s mothers know about the goat, nobody’s grandmothers know about it. Therefore, it is a late addition and Maimie’s encounter with Peter must have been within recent times.

This 1902 account of Peter Pan (from The Little White Bird, if you’ll recall) closed with a warning to children that they themselves should never try to hide in Kensington Gardens after dark. There are many dangers and some children can fall prey to evil fairies or freeze to death.

peter pan playing pipes in kensington gardens for fairies and childrenIn keeping with the morbid aspects of so much folklore and legendry, Barrie further states that Peter often buries children who die in the park in a hidden graveyard. Babies who die by falling from their “perambulators” (baby carriages) are also buried by Pan in that cemetery.

Fans of the more mainstream Peter Pan lore may recall that in the play it is said that Peter recruits his Lost Boys from children who fall from their perambulators, but in the play those children are not said to have died. They even grow up eventually and leave Neverland.

When you combine the child graveyard of the 1902 tale with Mrs. Darling’s claim in the later Peter Pan stories that Peter was a psychopomp who guided the souls of dead children to the afterlife, it’s easy to see why there are so many dark interpretations of Peter Pan lore.

Even the tale of Peter’s first flight can be interpreted as the baby actually falling to its death from its window, with its soul flying to Kensington Gardens, not Peter’s physical form.




Filed under Mythology, opinion


  1. Pingback: PETER PAN IN KENSINGTON GARDENS BALLADEERS BLOG – El Noticiero de Alvarez Galloso

  2. What a great post! Thank you for this! I recall reading Peter Pan many years ago and have seen Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in bookshops but always assumed that was the book’s full title. I had no idea – until now – that there was a book before the novelisation of the play!!! I love how you consistently bring out these ‘hidden in plain sight’ gems to us, thank you!!

  3. Peter Pan caught my attention. Anita

  4. Bout time someone told the whole of this story. Surprised though you didn’t bring home the fact that in the ’20s, Maimie was generally regarded as much better looking than Wendy. Probably overlooked because Maimie later filed suit in Kensington Bailey against Pan, Peter and Lads, Lost, for gender insensitivity. At the end of a lurid trial, Peter [&] were exonerated, you remember, largely due to the testimonies of one Bell [Belle], Tinker and one Sam [A.K.A. Smee] Smiegel, later refuted by Captain [HMRNS, Ret.] James Crook who knew Smiegel and Belle had something of a thing in ’07 and were beneficiaries of the P Pan Aero Fund Residuals.

  5. A wonderful post, Ed. Here is a link (if you have the time) re a video showcasing a replica of the Kensington Gardens statue of Peter Pan that is located in Queens Gardens where I live. It was gifted to all children in Western Australia back in 1927:

  6. I am learning English to avoid translating with the automatic translator!
    I will make it!
    (and now I’ll calmly read πŸ™‚ )

  7. Peter Pan’s story is beautiful! He was different from childhood! Well reviewed πŸ‘Œ

  8. I remember “just” seeing Peter Pan in a theatre when I was very young, maybe only 4 or 5 with my Mum and sister. It was a rare treat outing, probably the first time I went to a theatre! Thanks for bringing that forward into my brain, I enjoyed it immensely at the time, though now I don’t remember much of the detail. An interesting history of the evolving story you’ve shared. Thanks πŸ˜€

  9. Greetings! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

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