On this day in history….15th April 1929

On this day in history : 15th April 1929 – Author of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, donates his copyright fee for the story to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, in London….

J.M. Barrie 1892 – National Media Museum @ Flickr Commons

James Matthew Barrie was the ninth of ten children and was born in the weaving town of Kirriemuir in Scotland on the 9th of May 1860…. His father was a hand-loom weaver….

J.M. Barrie’s birth place

When Barrie was 6-years-old his older brother David – the apple of his mother’s eye – died in a tragic skating accident the day before his 14th birthday…. His heartbroken mother, Margaret, drew some comfort from the notion that her beloved David would forever remain a child to her….

It was a thought that stayed with Barrie as he grew up….an ‘everlasting childhood’….and would eventually develop into the story of Peter Pan….

Illustration of Peter Pan playing the pipes by F.D. Bedford from ‘Peter and Wendy’ – Public domain

Barrie always had a love for children….none more so than for the children of his dear friends Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies…. It was in 1897 that Barrie first met their three boys; George 5, Jack 4 and Peter, who was still a baby…. Two more boys, Michael and Nico were to be born to the family later….

In 1901, the family joined Barrie for a summer holiday at his Surrey home, it was then that he was inspired to write ‘The Boy Castaways’…. The story drew on the antics, games and adventures of the Llewelyn-Davies boys – and was a prequel to Peter Pan….

Arthur Llewelyn-Davies and sons 1905 – Public domain

Sadly, when the boys were still very young, both Arthur and Sylvia died from cancer…. Although Barrie’s own marriage had broken down and he was now divorced he became guardian to the children…. It was his life with the boys that formed the bedrock of Peter Pan….

It was in a chapter of ‘The Little White Bird’ in 1902 that Peter Pan made his first appearance – the story tells of how baby Peter learned to fly…. Barrie then wrote a stage play which was first performed at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London on the 27th of December 1904…. The play was a huge success and Barrie responded by writing the novel ‘Peter and Wendy’ in 1911…. It was an instant bestseller and has been in print ever since….img_2843

In 1929 Barrie was asked by Great Ormond Street Hospital – who he had supported for a long time – to sit on a committee to raise funds for a much-needed hospital wing…. Barrie declined their invitation but said he hoped he could find another way to help….

It was two months later that the Board learned, with much surprise, that Barrie had donated all rights of Peter Pan to the hospital…. Every play performance, every book sold – a benefit to Great Ormond Street Hospital…. Barrie just asked that the amount of money raised was never revealed….and it never has been….

by Herbert Rose Barraud, sepia carbon print on card mount, 1892
by Herbert Rose Barraud, sepia carbon print on card mount, 1892

On this day in history….22nd March 1744

On this day in history : 22nd March 1744 – The first book of English nursery rhymes, called ‘Tommy Thumb’s Song Book’ is published – featuring many rhymes that are still well-known today….

The full title of the book was actually ~ ‘Tommy Thumb’s Song Book for all little Masters and Misses; to be sung to them by their Nurses ’till they can sing themselves…. By Nurse Lovechild’….

The book was published by Mary Cooper of London. She was the widow of publisher Thomas Cooper – and after his death she continued the business…. A few weeks after the book was published a sequel followed – ‘Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book’….

The first page of ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ – from an 1815 edition

No copy of the first volume remains – but a copy of the second is held at the British Library….for years it was thought to be the only one in existence…. However, in 2001 another copy surfaced – it sold for £45,000….

The book contains forty nursery rhymes, many of which we still teach to our children today….

‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’, ‘Little Tommy Tucker’, ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’….img_2608

‘Hickory Dickory Dock’, ‘Little Robin Redbreast’, ‘Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross’….


‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’, ‘Boys and Girls Come Out to Play’, ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’….


‘Ladybird Ladybird’, ‘Mary Mary Quite Contrary’, ‘Oranges and Lemons’….

Internet Archive Book Images via flickr

Such lovely childhood memories…. Ironically, the engraver who did the illustrations for Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, was one George Bickham Jnr….who was sued by the government of the time for selling pornographic prints….

On this day in history….8th March 1859

On this day in history : 8th March 1859 – The birth of Kenneth Grahame, the Scottish author who brought us tales of Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger in ‘The Wind in the Willows’….

Image credit : Paul K via Flickr

Kenneth was born in Edinburgh; his mother died when he was just 5-years-old. His father, an alcoholic, gave up the care of his children to their grandmother…. Kenneth, his brother, sister and a new baby went to live with ‘Granny Ingles’ near to Cookham, Berkshire….

It was a large tumble-down house – in a certain state of neglect – but it had a big rambling garden and was near to a river…. The children’s uncle, David Ingles – curate of the village church – introduced them to the delights of the riverbank and boating…. It was an idyllic place for a childhood and believed to be the setting for ‘The Wind in the Willows’…. Eventually though the family had to move, as the chimney stack of the dilapidated old house collapsed….

Kenneth had wanted to go to Oxford University – but because of finances this was not possible…. Instead he started work in 1879 at the Bank of England…. He worked his way up and by the time he retired (due to ill-health) in 1908 he had risen to the position of Secretary of the Bank of England….

In 1899 Kenneth married Elspeth Thomson – and the following year they had a son…. Alastair was born premature, he was blind in one eye and suffered from health problems throughout his life….

On retirement Kenneth took his family back to live where he had spent his childhood – Berkshire…. At his son’s bedtime he would tell the boy stories and it was then that the characters of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ were created…. Toad was based on Alastair himself – whilst Ratty was influenced by Kenneth’s good friend and fellow writer, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch…. Kenneth frequently went on boating holidays – without his family – but when he was away he would write home to Alastair with more tales of Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger…. Later he was to use theses stories as a basis for his book, which was first published in 1908….

Ratty and Mole – Image credit : Amber Case via Flickr

Tragically, on the 7th of May 1920 Alastair committed suicide on a railway line…. It was five days before his 20th birthday – he was an undergraduate at Oxford University…. Out of a mark of respect to his parents the death was recorded as accidental….

Kenneth himself died in 1932 in Pangbourne, Berkshire. English novelist and playwright Anthony Hope – who happened to be Kenneth’s cousin – wrote his epitaph….

‘To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the river on the 6th of July, 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time’….