Paddington and friends go to town

Paddington Bear books32 Windsor Gardens, one of the most celebrated addresses in literature, is, as many pilgrims have discovered, sadly fictional. But film fans have been delighted to see the home of Mr and Mrs Brown, their children Judy and Jonathan, their housekeeper Mrs Bird and a bear called Paddington brought to life in the enchanting new film. Much of the film was made on location in London, including a lengthy scene – obviously – in Paddington Station here in Westminster as well as Portobello Market in the neighbouring borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

When you’ve seen the film, why not revisit some of the books, which have been loved by children and grown-ups alike since they first appeared in 1958. Readers of a certain age will remember Paddington appearing in Blue Peter annuals. Completely uncoincidentally author Michael Bond worked as a cameraman on the programme.

Good Wives, by Louisa M AlcottPaddington is not the only famous character from children’s fiction to have visited Westminster. Little Women’s Amy March visited as part of her Grand Tour in Louisa May Alcott‘s Good Wives:

Today was fair, and we went to Hyde Park, close by, for we are more aristocratic than we look. The Duke of Devonshire lives near. I often see his footmen lounging at the back gate, and the Duke of Wellington’s house is not far off. Such sights as I saw, my dear! It was as good as Punch, for there were fat dowagers rolling about in their red and yellow coaches, with gorgeous Jeameses in silk stockings and velvet coats, up behind, and powdered coachmen in front. Smart maids, with the rosiest children I ever saw, handsome girls, looking half asleep, dandies in queer English hats and lavender kids lounging about, and tall soldiers, in short red jackets and muffin caps stuck on one side, looking so funny I longed to sketch them.

What Katy Did, by Susan CoolidgeKaty Carr, heroine of the What Katy Did books by Susan Coolidge, stayed in Batt’s Hotel, Dover Street (a real hotel of the ‘second class, especially adapted for families’ according to the Victorian London site. Katy was particularly excited about seeing Wimpole Street, not because of its connections with Elizabeth Barrett Browning but because of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park:

“Wimpole Street!” she cried suddenly, as she caught sight of the name on the corner; “that is the street where Maria Crawford in Mansfield Park, you know, ‘opened one of the best houses’ after she married Mr. Rushworth. Think of seeing Wimpole Street! What fun!” She looked eagerly out after the “best houses,” but the whole street looked uninteresting and old-fashioned; the best house to be seen was not of a kind, Katy thought, to reconcile an ambitious young woman to a dull husband. Katy had to remind herself that Miss Austen wrote her novels nearly a century ago, that London was a “growing” place, and that things were probably much changed since that day.

Fairies were first spotted in Kensington Gardens in 1722 when the perhaps justly forgotten poet Thomas Tickell wrote a poem about them:

“When Albion rul’d the land, whose lineage came
From Neptune mingling with a mortal dame,
Their midnight pranks the sprightly Fairies play’d
On ev’ry hill, and danc’d in ev’ry shade.”

Peter Pan, by JM BarrieHowever it was JM Barrie who immortalised them. In 1897, Barrie met George Llewellyn-Davies and his nanny in Kensington Gardens. He soon became friends with the entire family which included the boys’ uncle Gerald Du Maurier, later to be the first Captain Hook on stage. Barrie invented stories for George and later Jack Llewellyn-Davies about their younger brother Peter who he claimed could fly (which was why there were bars on the nursery window) and who ran away to live among the fairies.

This grew into the tale of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, later turned into a stage play and the more famous Peter Pan and Wendy:

You must see for yourselves that it will be difficult to follow Peter Pan’s adventures unless you are familiar with the Kensington Gardens. They are in London, where the King lives, and I used to take David there nearly every day unless he was looking decidedly flushed. No child has ever been in the whole of the Gardens, because it is so soon time to turn back. The reason it is soon time to turn back is that, if you are as small as David, you sleep from twelve to one. If your mother was not so sure that you sleep from twelve to one, you could most likely see the whole of them.

You can visit the Peter Pan statue by the Long Water and amaze your children or friends by getting a phone call from Peter… if you know how.

Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace, by AA Milne and EH ShephardWhen he wasn’t hanging out with Pooh, Eeyore and the gang in the Hundred Acre Wood, AA Milne’s son Christopher Robin was a London boy who liked nothing better than a bit of pageantry:

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
“A soldier’s life is terrible hard,” Says Alice.

From Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace by AA Milne and EH Shephard

The real Christopher Robin has a somewhat ambivalent relationship to his alter ego – you can read about growing up as a National Treasure in his memoirs The Enchanted Places.

The BFG, by Roald DahlSlightly more recently, another visitor to Buckingham Palace was Roald Dahl’s BFG who even manages to have breakfast with the Queen

She found it almost impossible to believe that she, Sophie, a little orphan of no importance in the world, was at this moment actually sitting high above the ground on the window-sill of the Queen of England’s bedroom, with the Queen herself asleep in there behind the curtain not more than five yards away…

Harry Potter booksThe part of London most associated with JK Rowling‘s Harry Potter is of course King’s Cross Station in neighbouring Camden, but many key scenes in the books do take place in Westminster. Notably, Diagon Alley, the wizard’s shopping centre with the extended opening hours, is located just off Charing Cross Road:

Seconds later Harry’s feet found pavement and he opened his eyes on Charing Cross Road. Muggles bustled past wearing the hangdog expressions of early morning quite unconscious of the little inn’s existence. The bar of the Leaky Cauldron was nearly deserted. Tom, the stooped and toothless landlord was polishing glasses; a couple of warlocks having a muttered conversation in the far corner glanced at Hermione and drew back into the shadows.

The opening of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has a suspiciously Blair-like Prime Minister being visited in his office (presumably in Downing Street) by his opposite number the Minister for Magic, whose own office is just down the road in Whitehall. Anyone who thinks their daily commute is bad should feel grateful they don’t have to clamber into a public lavatory as the ministry staff do in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and be whisked to their office via a drain.

You can find all the books mentioned above in Westminster Libraries and if you’d like to research the authors, why not check out the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and Contemporary Authors – both part of our 24/7 Library, just log in with your library card number.

[Nicky]

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