“awfully big adventure.”
No, I do not mean the Peter Pan - Kensington Gardens production.
I’ll talk about that in another post. (If you’re chomping at the bit to know what I thought: For the most part it delighted me.)
I suppose I should have been aware of the location of Sir James Matthew Barrie’s home in London, but the truth is it’s not highly publicized on the internet and guide books. And my memory, I’m afraid, is akin to Pan’s sometimes, especially since it has been at least fifteen years since I held the facts of the place in my head. I did, of course, know that he lived near Kensington Gardens. Naturally, I chose a hotel with but a few minutes’ walk to the famous grounds.
Imagine my surprise to learn that Bart and I stayed at a hotel just down the road from the house where Barrie lived! Quite a thrill just on that notion alone. I would touch the doorknob each time we left for another day in London and again when returning to the hotel at the end of the day’s excursion. The very idea of placing my hand on something which Barrie had as well!
On the final full day of our trip, I decided to be a little bold. (Pan would have!)
It took all week to summon the courage. After all, someone quite obviously lived there. I’d be bothering them just to satisfy my own curiosity. But the desire to see his home on the inside proved too great so… I rang the doorbell!
Bart and I waited: nervously, anticipatorily, excitedly, wonderingly. When it seemed like no one would respond, we gave each other a glance, wordlessly deciding we should move on with that day’s plan… off to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Then, the door moved.
A woman with disheveled hair, in a bathrobe. “May I help you?”
“Sorry to bother you, ma’am. My name is Peter Von Brown. I’m a scholar of Sir JM Barrie and I wanted to know if I could…”
She stopped me. She explained that she did not live at the residence. Instead, she had been visiting. In fact, she had just been packing to leave. She asked if we had any idea who lived in the building. No, we explained, just curious admirers of Barrie. The reply came: Lord and Lady ____. (I am omitting the surname so as to allow privacy.) Imagine that! A real Lord and Lady!
I had supposed the visit to be over. But she then said she would see if her Ladyship would receive us. She returned quite promptly with the amazing response that we may step into the garden (a lovely area just in front of the house, obscured by a tall wall.) The Lady would meet with us!
Very shortly afterward, as Bart and I stood (once again) nervously, anticipatorily, excitedly, wonderingly, the Lady arrived at the door. A senior woman, though quite spry with her cane and looking as elegant as can be despite her informal wear. (For it could not have yet been ten in the morning.) “Yes?”
I thanked her for taking the time to receive us and proceeded to (briefly) explain who I am, my college Honors Project Peter Pan’s NeverWorld and my desire to behold the home of Barrie. She said she had heard something about the sequel. I quickly explained that mine is completely separate from that one, which upsets me greatly as it contradicts Barrie’s original stories. “My work is not only faithful to Barrie, but it’s based on his idea for more adventure.” I like to think she looked impressed. “I would like to present you with a copy of my novel,” I said, and I signed it then and there. She took it and had a gander. I then fumbled a bit for words (though not at all tripping) to humbly request just to be able to walk inside. “I certainly understand it would not be as Barrie kept it, but just to be able…”
“Come inside,” said her Ladyship.
I swelled with joy, reverently (both for Barrie and her Ladyship) walking up the steps and into the historical home.
Her Ladyship not only graciously allowed us into her home (a true honour, let me tell you) but took the time to point out what differences have been made to the house since Barrie’s occupation. “A wall would have been here… that area is an extension…” and such. She answered our questions as they arose, all with a pleasant and serene flair. And not just about Barrie. About her own home and possessions. What a splendid home! In-wall bookshelves filled with tomes of all sorts, marvelous paintings, vases, a vintage piano… all absolutely grand! She spent a good twenty minutes to a half hour with us.
We are still reeling over having met her (My word! A real Lady! [One of import, too!]), her immense kindness and, of course, of having trod in the same place as one of the men I most admire. To be in the very residence where he wrote the stories of Peter Pan!
Thank you, your Ladyship, we are most grateful.
As we left, she said (without provocation) that she would indeed read my novel. (Believe me, it’s a thrill when anyone says they’d like to read your book… but a true Lady of England? Wow.) Bart had asked if many fans of Barrie (or even just Peter Pan) come to her door. She replied that a few do, but she does not encourage it. What had hitherto seemed an insurmountable honour doubled at that moment. As did my gratitude and appreciation of her allowing us to visit.
Bart asked if he may take pictures of her garden. She said the garden, yes, the home, no. Perfectly understandable, and again, we were most grateful. We each gave her a gentle bow and she returned inside. Bart snapped his photos and we exited, still basking in the experience of lifetime.
A word to the wise: Should you have your own holiday in London and wish to see Barrie’s home, please do so as I did for the rest of my visit. By which I mean, admire it from the outside. I sincerely doubt that if I had not been the Barrie scholar that I am and had written and presented her with my book, I would not have been allowed the generous offer. I don’t mean that in the conceited way of Peter Pan but as a statement of fact, as well as a desire to leave a kindly, elderly member of the aristocracy in peace. As she stated herself, it is not encouraged.
And your Ladyship, should you be reading this entry, again, my most sincere thank you and appreciation of your magnanimous gesture. And please note that the picture of the blue plaque denoting Barrie’s residence had been taken prior to our meeting. We can both honestly say it had been the highlight of our first trip to London.