Perhaps the most beloved literary characters of all time is Peter Pan. The story was written by J.M. Barie and first presented on stage in 1904. Published versions of the book delighted children and movie versions, especially the Disney version, brougt Peter into the lives of children all over the world. Barie developed the story in the process of telling stories to the children of a family he met in Kensington Gardens, the Llewellyn-Davies boys. Peter is in fact named after one of the boys, Peter. The ways the boys were dressed provide a glimpse of how some affluent English boys were dressed at the turn of the century. Both parents died when the boys were still quite young. The story of the boys as adults is also very sad.
Sir James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937), is the Scottish dramatist and novelist who wrote "Peter Pan". Barrie cerainly never set out to wrire childern's books. He wrote many plays and novels, but few except lierary scholars could name any of his works--with the exception of "Peter Pan". Barrie was born at Kirriemuir, Forfarshire in Scotland. I have little information on his childhood or what he wore as a boy. James for the first 6 years of his life, lived in the shadow of his elder brother David. David was the shining star of the family. Just before his 14th birthday, David was tragically killed in a skating accident. The tragedy would affect James his entire life. James soon realized that, by dying so young, David would remain a boy forever in the minds of all those who had known him. That simple observation was later to be the inspiration behind Peter Pan. We do not yet have details on his education beyond his degree from Edinburgh University. J.M. Barrie by the late 1890s was a successful writer both in Britain and the United States. He was married to the actress Mary Ansell but they had no children, which was a great tragedy of his life because he so loved children. The fact that he had
no children of his own, didn't stop him from meeting children. One of these was a 4-year-old girl called Margaret who called Barrie "my friendy". Because she couldn't pronounce her "r"'s, the word "friendy" often sounded like "fwendy" or "wendy". She died when she was 6 but Barrie immortalized her in Peter Pan by calling his heroine Wendy, a name that he created.
Barrie with his books and plays moved in literary circles and thus was well established in London society. The connection with the Llewellyn-Davies family seems rather accidental. Barrie's London home was very close to Kensington Gardens and it was here that he first met the Llewellyn Davies boys--George, Jack and Peter (1897). The boys, including baby Peter, were on an outing with Nanny Mary Hodgson in Kensington Gardens.
Barrie often walked his Saint Bernard dog Porthos in the park. Barrie was attracted to the boys and the boys probanly first to Porthos. (Already we have many of the Peter Pan characters.) Barrie himself delighted the boys with his ability to wiggle his ears and eyebrows. It was a while before he met the parents.
Barrie described the boys' mother Sylvia as "the most beautiful creature I had ever seen". She was apparently intrigued and honored by the interest of a famous novelist and play write. Barrie was a well known and popular writer and well regarded by popular London culture. While few today could name one
of Barrie's works, he was well-regarded at the time. The boys' father, Arthur Llewellyn Davies, regarded Barrie's interest very differently. He resented Barrie's interference with his family from the beginning.
The father, however, died of cancer while the boys were still quite young. I am not sure of the background of either family. Llewellyn is a Welsh name. The only Llewellyn I know of at the time was Sir. William
Llewellyn (1863-1941), a well regarded painter who painted many portraits including some of Queen Mary.
After the chance meering in Kenington Gardens, Barrie, Porthos, and the boys became great friends (1897). Barrie followed up his funny faces with wonderful stories that in the period before rafio and the novies, delighted the boys. That Dcember, Barrie met Sylvia for the first time at another chance encounter, this time at a dinner party. She was enchanted with him, surely in poart because of his social status. She of course invited him to the family home. Soon he was a frequent visitor to their house where he would tell the boys stories. One of these stories was about the youngest boy, Peter, who, according to Barrie, would one day fly away to Kensington Gardens so that he might be a boy forever. When children died, Peter would take them on a journey to a place called Never Never Land. When George heard the story, he said that "dying must be an awfully big adventure!". Barrie wrote the words down. They would later became the most famous words spoken in Peter Pan. Barrie became commonly seen with both Sylvia and the boys. This was rather unusual as both were already married. J.M. Barrie's relationship with the Llewellyn family continued and soon two more boys were born, Michael and Nico. Michael soon became Barrie's favorite and he even took photographs of him dressed as Peter Pan. Barrie invited the entire Llewellyn-Davies family to Black Lake Cottage--his country retreat (1901). There he oversaw a pirate adventure story with the boys. And the whole adventure was recorded in a photographic album with captioned photographs showing the boys acting out their parts. The title was "The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island". Barrie made two copies. He gave the first to the boys' father who lost it on a train, perhaps on purpose. The surviving copy is in the collection of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. When Sylvia also died of cancer, Barrie took on the role of the boys' guardian. But soon tragedy was to follow the boys. The BBC in the late 1970s in its TV production of the The Lost Boys, dealt with the relationship between J.M. Barrie and Llewellyn-Davies family.
Perhaps the most beloved literary characters of all time is Peter Pan. The story was written by J.M. Barie and first presented on stage in 1904. Peter is a imaginary boy, leading the nursery-bound Darling children through exciting adventures. Peter is remembered for the Peter Pan collar. This was an existing fashion, but acquired the name because of illustrations for the book and theatrical costuming used in for Peter.
The Llewelyn Davies brothers were in fact Barrie's "lost boys", for whom he wrote Peter Pan. His relationship with them was a curious one. Despite the comfortable circumstances to which they were born, several led tragic lives. Barrie clearly greatly enjoyed his close association with the boys. He was also plunged into the depths of despair. His two favourites died young; George on the Western Front, Michael in a drowning accident at Oxford.
George was the oldest brother. He was tragically killed in March, 1915, a victim of World War I. It is amazing in researching British family history how many families
suffered similar tragedies. This is reported all too often in HBC biographies for boys of the World War I generation. When one visits England, the many churches scattered throughout the country leave a ledger open, often two for each World War. The ledger contains the names of Parish soldiers killed in the wars. In many churches the books are massive. The pages are carefully turned each day.
I have no information on Jack, other than unlike the other boys, who went to Eton, Jack attended the Royal Naval College at Osbourne. I'm not sure why he did as he found his 5-years there "horendous".
Peter was the youngest of the first three brothers and became the name sake of the hero in Peter Pan. Peter grew up to be a highly regarded publisher, but at 63-years of age in 1960, committed suicide by throwing himself under a train at London's Sloane Square tube station.
Michael of course was the name sake of one of the three Darling children in Peter Pan. He was reportedly Barrie's favorite and Barrie photographed him costumed as Peter Pan. The photo was the model for the famous statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Michael and not Peter is the boy reportedly who Peter Pan was most closely modeled, but the cahracter is in fact an amalgum of all five brothers. Michael, who could not swim, drowned in the Thames during May 1921. Barrie later referred to him as the boy "that will never be old".
Nico like most of his brothers went to Eton. Strangely, only Nico seems to have regarded Barrie with anything like affection, and according to an acquaitance, "seemed able to view his youth with a certain objectivity".
The boys show how a middle class English family may have dressed their young sons for play around the house and perhaps a leisurely outing in the park in the early 1900s: loose smocks, a beret-style hat, and matching knickerbockers. This may not have, however, been the most common attire for boys. The Llewellyn Davis family were quite
progressive in outlook, and therefore dressed their sons in a more free and easy
"Frenchified" style. This contrasted with the more buttoned up English fashions for children at the time. The outfits in the TV program depicted here appear to be loosely based on family photographs. HBC has collected some the interesting details on the children's clothing. The BBC usually makes an effort to deal
accurately with costuming and as far as we can tell did so in this case.
Their mother Sylvia seems to have liked
floppy berets.Available photographs suggest that this was what they worn from day to day. One photograph shows Peter as a very young boy wearing a floppy, French-looking sailor cap. A British TV production showed the boys wearing red berets. This rather surprised HBC, but in fact we have little information about the color of berets worn by children, although black seems to have been common in France. A HBC reader informs us that Sylvia found an old judicical robe belonging to Arthur's grandfather and decided to cut it up and make berets for the boys.
[Barrie, The Lost Boys.] The same berets may have been
used for the later children as well, since Barrie makes the remark to
Nico, when he was 14 and going into "tails" at Eton, that he wishes he
(Nico) could grow backwards rather than up, back into red and blue and
Kensington Gardens - and Nico would not have been born when those berets were first made. [Eithne Bearden, La Salle University]
The boys seemed to have worn loose fitting garments, sometimes worn with belts. I'm not sure whose idea the belts were and who decided if they would wear belts on a given day. Did the boys want to wear belts with their smocks? Did thy have to get permission to do so? Or did they not care? There is no reason to wear a belt with as smock, except for appearance sake. The belt does give a more boyish look to a smock. The boys' smocks appear to have always light-colored smocks. A TV production shows cream colored smocks. They are all back buttoning, as were all the smocks at that time, with collars tightly fitting around the neck. These images are interesting, because
boys at the time usually dressed up to have rather formal pictures taken. Thus even if they wore smocks commonly at home, they were not often photographed in smocks. Thus it is some what unclear how common
English smocks were. As Barrie often photographed the boys, these pictures are less staged and more realistic images of how the boys were commonly dresses from day to day.
Many of the old photographs are indistinct.
Some of the smocks appear to have no collar. At least one image,
however, shows a smock with a small collar, cut in the style we now refer to as a
Peter Pan collar.
The boys wear knicker-style bloomer pants with long wool stockings. They appear to have worn these knickers at knee length. The TV production has them wearing red knickers. I am not sure how common this was.
Avaialble images provide detailed information on the style of smocks worn by the Llewellyn-Davies boys. One interesting questiin is the conventiions for English boys wearing smocks. Were they just worn informally around home or were they wrn for other occasins as well. Only limited information is available on this question. The photographs show them mostly around home. The TV production shows them wearing tyheir smocks for outing to the park--of course Kensington Gardens. I am not sure, however, sjust how extensively the boys wore smocks. Would they wear them when they went shopping or for parties? What about when visitors called? What did they ear to church? Presumably they did not wear them to school, but did they cange into smocks when they came home from school? An English HBC contributor reports, I think that the smocks in the TV drama are accurate copies of those in the LD family photiographs. The liklihood is that theybwere a liberal family with "progressive" and thus dressed their sons in the free and easy--yet smoewhat arty--smocks. Ordinary working class boys would have been clothed in much less comfortable tweed Norfolk suits and stiff collars.
I do not have any information yet on what the boys thought of their smocks and berets. Presumably they wore them until about 8 years of age. I do not know yet, but I assume that at that age they were sent off to
board at a preparatory school. The available photographs show the boys up to about age 8 years. One interesting question is what happened after the older boys started school and wearing their school uniforms. When they came come for the holidays and summer did they have to put their smocks and berets
back on, or did they no longer wear them. Also once the older boys stopped wearing smocks and berets, did the younger boys then begin to object to wearing them.
Interesting details can be found in Andrew Birkin's One of the most enduring fashions flowing from the Peter Pan story was of course Peter Pan collars. The collars were worn in the 19th century. I'm not precisely sure how this style of collar came to be called Peter Pan collars. Presumably it was used in book illustratiins and theatrical costuming, but I'm not sure about the details.
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Created: March 17, 1999
Spell checked: August 5, 1999
Last updated: 4:06 PM 4/12/2010
One of the most enduring fashions flowing from the Peter Pan story was of course Peter Pan collars. The collars were worn in the 19th century. I'm not precisely sure how this style of collar came to be called Peter Pan collars. Presumably it was used in book illustratiins and theatrical costuming, but I'm not sure about the details.
Navigate the HBC literary pages' Historical Clothing Web Site:
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing biography page: