[Photographs kindly provided by © John Bickerton. — George P. Landow]
Peter Pan was written in 1902 and first performed on the London stage in 1904. The inspiration for Peter Pan came from J. M. Barrie’s acquaintance with a boy he met in Kensington Gardens in 1889 and his subsequent relationship with the boy’s mother, Sylvia Llewellyn Davies, in 1909. Shortly before Barrie met Peter Llewellyn Davies in Kensington Gardens (and subsequently his four brothers), the boy’s father, Arthur, had died. After this event Peter became withdrawn from society. Barrie, moved by Peter’s grief, began to feed the boys’ imaginations with fantastical stories about a mythical place called Never-Land; a land full of lost boys and mermaids in pirate coves, with secret caves and woods.
A Panoramic view of Lulworth Cove. [Click on this and the following images to enlarge them.]
What is not in doubt is that Peter, the boy Barrie met in Kensington Gardens, was the inspiration for Peter Pan. However, it is our contention that the inspiration for Never-Land was, at least in part, Lulworth Cove in Dorset. This we seek to demonstrate through a brief examination of Barrie’s intellectual circles, which included Gerald Du Maurier, Thomas Hardy, Sir Fredrick Treves and Sir Alfred Fripp, the owner of The Mill House, a large country property on the beach at Lulworth Cove, Dorset; a place renowned for tales of pirates and smugglers. While Peter Pan has received much scholarly attention in recent years, the geographical, intellectual and social relationships between Barrie and these fellow luminaries appears to have been overlooked and merits further investigation.
The lives of Barrie, Hardy, Du Maurier, and Treves all intersect. The point of that intersection is Lulworth Cove and Sir Alfred Fripp, the surgeon-ordinary to King Edward VII and later to George V. Unfortunately, there is not enough space or time here to show the many connections that exist between these men and their connections with Lulworth Cove and its surrounding area. But, in the following paragraphs we shall provide some evidence to suggest that Barrie's connections to Fripp and The Mill House at Lulworth Cove, provided him with the opportunity to meet like-minded men of letters, exchange ideas and draw inspiration for "Never-Land" from the landscape that the area had to offer.
Barrie and Fripp lived within a mile of each other in London’s west-end and they moved in the same social circles. They also shared similar philanthropic interests. Both men, for example, were actively involved in children’s charities. In 1924 Alfred Fripp co-founded Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers, with his friend Mr. Bert Temple, a wealthy patient and friend — a society set up to help raise money for children’s charities and hospitals. Furthermore, following his death in 1937, Barrie gave the copyright of Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.
Their common interests however, were not limited to their charitable work; they also shared a love of the theatre. Alfred Fripp and his wife, Lady Margaret Scott Fripp, for example, were often seen in attendance at the opening of a new London play. David Woodhead, author of Of Fripp and Froth Blowers, has recently pointed out that the Fripp’s attended the first night of Peter Pan at the theatre on the 27 December 1904. As surgeon to the King, Fripp was already a celebrity in his own right. His patients included many of the actors, directors and the playwrights from the world of theatre and the arts. One of Fripp’s patients and good friend was Gerald Du Maurier, the father of author, Daphne Du Maurier and sister of Sylvia Llewellyn Davies; the mother of Peter, and J. M. Barrie’s lover. It seems no coincidence then that Gerald played Mr. Darling/ Captain Hook on the opening night of Peter Pan and that on Sylvia’s death she requested that both Du Maurier and Barrie be her children’s guardians.
Two more views of Lulworth Cove.
Alfred Fripp’s work colleague in London was one Sir Frederick Treves, another of the King’s surgeons and a resident of Lulworth Cove. Treves is more widely known for having treated Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. David Woodhead has made the point that there was little love lost between Treves and Fripp. Nonetheless, whatever their personal or professional differences may have been, their connection with Lulworth Cove and overlapping social circles cannot be ignored. Treves had a rich literary heritage. As a child he had been a pupil at the school of the Dorset dialect poet William Barnes, and was an active participant in the Society of Dorset Men alongside his life-long friend, the Dorset poet and Novelist, Thomas Hardy, a regular visitor to Lulworth. It is probable that when Thomas Hardy was in London that he would have called in on his friend Treves, bringing with him news of the folk back home and the business of the Society of Dorset Men. Treves, in turn, is likely to have filled Hardy in on the latest London literary gossip. We know that Hugh Clifford, a British colonial administrator, first introduced Hardy to Barrie on a visit to London, however, it is possible that Hardy first came to hear of Barrie and his creation Peter Pan from on a visit to Treves. Whether Treves and Barrie knew each other well is uncertain but their connections with Lulworth Cove, Alfred Fripp and Thomas Hardy are palpable.
Left to right: (a) Corfe Castle. (b) Durdle Door. (c) The Stair Hole.
What is certain is that Thomas Hardy and Barrie formed a close friendship which only ended in 1928 when Hardy died: it was Barrie that read his eulogy at the unveiling of Hardy’s monument in Dorchester after the poet’s death. While we cannot be sure how often Barrie visited Hardy in Dorset or where they stayed, it is possible that on some occasions they met up at either Alfred Fripp’s or Treves’s house, or both, at Lulworth. Barrie visited Dorset on several occasions and he appears to have been moved by the strong folk tradition and beautiful scenery; we know, for example, that Barrie visited Corfe-Castle, Swanage and Dorchester. If he did spend any significant time at Lulworth Cove then it is also likely that Barrie was aware of the interesting associations that Hardy makes between Lulworth Cove’s literary heritage and questions of agelessness and immortality in the poem "At Lulworth Cove a Century Back," a poem written by Hardy about John Keats, who it is said, composed the sonnet "Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art" at Lulworth Cove shortly before his death from tuberculosis in Rome, at the age of 25.
The years following 1910 saw some profound changes in the personal and professional lives of both Barrie and Fripp, and subsequently their friendship also appears to have grown closer. In 1910, for example, Edward VII died followed a few months later by Barrie’s lover, Sylvia Llewellyn Davies. Within a year, Fripp took over as surgeon-ordinary to George V and he bought The Mill House at Lulworth Cove. Meanwhile, while Fripp was making a home for his family at Lulworth Cove, Barrie was busy adapting Peter Pan into a novel. The story of Peter Pan first appeared in print in 1911, this time under the name of Peter and Wendy. Perhaps, the greatest difference between the stage-play and manuscript for the book is that in 1911 Barrie includes Never-Land, the mythical land that Barrie had first created for Peter and his brothers back in 1889. Around this time the Fripp’s became more directly involved with Peter Pan, offering to help support Barrie by selling tickets for the play. An advert in The British Medical Journal in 1912, for example, points out that theatre-goers were able to purchase tickets for Peter Pan from Lady Fripp at her home in Portland-Place. Meanwhile, Betty Fripp, Margaret and Alfred’s daughter was living in Lulworth. She lived in the village all her life and later became actively involved in the Baden Powells’ girl-guides. The older folk of Lulworth Cove fondly remember that Betty would take the children of the village annually to see Peter Pan in London at her own cost.
That there were some significant changes in both the Fripp’s and Barrie’s lives from 1910-1912 is certain. Could it be that after 1910 Fripp invited Barrie to stay at The Mill House in Lulworth Cove, where he would have met and talked with Thomas Hardy? And is it possible that it was here, Barrie started adapting Peter Pan the play into Peter and Wendy the book, into which he adds Never-Land for the first time? If you look out of The Mill House onto Lulworth Cove today, you would see the rocks and smugglers' caves, punctuated by high cliffs on either side of the Cove itself. Little has changed in Lulworth in centuries and it is a place that etches itself onto the imagination as Keats discovered before he departed for Italy. Of course, there is no concrete evidence that Barrie found inspiration for Never-Land in Lulworth Cove, but the associations appear too numerous to be passed off as mere coincidence.
- J. M. Barrie and Lulworth Cove in Dorset — an appeal for information
- The Scenery of Dorset
- Sculpture of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens
Last modified 28 September 2015