It’s time to hop into your winged slippers and take a trip round a magical London – one where childhood dreams never end. These London tales tell of a honey-loving bear from Harrods, an eccentric detective, boys with magic powers, giants and a Gothic vampire. So, without further ado, let’s take a swashbuckling, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious literary tour of London for kids with Dracula, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Sherlock, the BFG and friends. For kids big and small.
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Barnes Children’s Literature Festival
Let’s start with the annual Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, now in its fourth year and which promises to be a jam-packed weekend of storytelling, workshops and activities. Some of the biggest names in children’s books will be lending their superpowers for the weekend: author and illustrator Cressida Cowell whose How To Train Your Dragon series was adapted for Hollywood films is on her way, along with Andy Stanton, the comic genius behind the Mr Gum series. And Gruffalo creator Axel Scheffler and Tony Ross, the illustrator of the mega-bestselling books by David Walliams, will both be making appearances.
This tale could be out of 101 Dalmatians but it’s a Peter Pan one: J.M. Barrie met the Llewelyn Davies family in Kensington Gardens whilst he was walking his St Bernard dog, Porthos. They became lifelong friends, Barrie eventually adopting all their children when the couple passed away. George Llewelyn Davies, later killed in action in 1915, was one of the children who inspired Barrie to create the boy who would never grow up. Check out 31 Kensington Park Gardens, the house where the Darlings lived, but remember to take some fairy dust with you.
Staying with our winged boy, you won’t want to miss Peter Pan in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre this summer. It’s going to be an awfully big adventure!
And if you want to see what a pirate’s life was like, head over to the Golden Hinde on Bankside where you can visit the replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship. Costumed guides will re-enact 16th century seafaring life, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you could join Drake and his crew for a sleepover on-board.
If you happen to be going to see The Lion King, know that the Lyceum Theatre was home to Dracula’s creator, Bram Stoker. He was business manager here as well as assistant to the theatre’s owner, acting legend Henry Irving. Stoker would go on to become friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.
138 Piccadilly is now Eon House, the production company behind the James Bond franchise, but it once had a much darker and bloodier owner: Dracula. He first lived in the East End (Carfax House in Purfleet) but moved to Piccadilly when his enemies started hunting him. This “vile-smelling” place is the house into which van Helsing and Jonathan Harker break in one night, intent on destroying the vampire’s lair. Although it is never named as 138, vampire experts (including the co-founder of the Dracula Society) have identified the house as such. You might want to wear some garlic bulbs when you walk past.
In 1934, Mary Poppins came in with the east wind, floating into London’s 17 Cherry Tree Lane with a carpet bag and parrot-headed brolly. Her maker, Pamela Lyndon Travers, lived at 50 Smith Street in Chelsea, the inspiration for 17 Cherry Tree Lane in her series of novels, Mary Poppins. Fun fact: Mary Shepard, the illustrator of the Mary Poppins books, was the daughter of Ernest Shepherd, illustrator of Winnie the Pooh.
This striking and rather unusual house was built in 1700 and once occupied by Lieutenant Fountain North. He would fire cannons from the rooftop of Admiral’s House in celebration of King George III’s birthday – sound familiar? Constable loved to paint the house, and George Gilbert Scott (architect of the Houses of Parliament) was its occupant. But its best-loved resident has to be a fictional one, the very eccentric cannon-shooting Admiral Bloom.
Until 1967, St Paul’s soared across the London skyline as the city’s tallest building. The cathedral is one of London’s most iconic buildings and was a major symbol of resistance during the Blitz. Its front steps are etched in my memory as the setting for ‘Feed the Birds’ in the film Mary Poppins. In the book version, Mary isn’t quite as sympathetic as the Disney version, implying birds shouldn’t be fed. Ah well, I’ll keep the Disney version if that’s ok.
And if you want an umbrella that’s practically perfect in every way, head over to James Smith and Sons where you can buy Mary Poppin’s Parrot Handle umbrella.
Forget the Sherlock Holmes Museum and head over to Europe’s oldest hospital, St Bartholomew’s. A plaque in the museum marks the spot where Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson first met in New Year’s Day 1881 and where Sherlock uttered his famous words here: “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” And if you’re a fan of the TV series, the roof of St Bart’s Hospital was the location for Sherlock’s “Reichenbach Fall” suicide.
And more than just a drinking hole, the Sherlock Holmes pub has a replica of Holmes’s study at 221B Baker Street, originally put together for the 1951 Festival of Britain. It’s stuffed full of Holmes memorabilia, including his famous pipe, violin and snuff box. The pub is directly opposite Scotland Yard.
Rudyard Kipling moved into Brown’s Hotel and penned Jungle Book here. In his honour, the hotel’s signature suite has been named the Kipling. A white plaster monkey greets you at the door, and the suite’s library is stocked with Kipling books. If you can’t afford the eye-watering price of the room, try the Afternoon Tea instead. It was Queen Victoria’s favourite destination for tea and cake. Arthur Conan Doyle, J.M. Barrie, Robert Louis Stevenson and Bram Stoker were also regular visitors.
I won’t list all the Harry Potter locations across London as there are plenty of other blog posts for that. Instead, go to House of MinaLima, a wizarding treasure trove of a shop in Soho. The gallery and shop showcases graphical works from the Harry Potter films: a Hogwarts Express ticket, Harry’s acceptance letter, copies of The Daily Prophet and the Marauder’s Map are only some of the magical items you can peek at in the gallery. The designing duo who own the shop also designed all the graphic elements for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, as well as designing graphics for new editions of Peter Pan, The Jungle Book and The Secret Garden. Free entry.
And five minutes away is Cecil Court which dates to the 17th century, and which was named after Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Robert Cecil. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived at No 9, and it’s argued that he composed his first symphony here. Today it’s referred to as Booksellers’ Row due to the volume of second hand and antique bookshops which line the street, and it’s said to be the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
And if you feel the need to rest your winged feet, fly over to Soho and spend a magical two and a half hours at the Cutter and Squidge School of Wizadry for Afternoon Tea and a spellbinding Potions class.
You might not be able to sneak into the bedroom of Her Majesty the Queen, (Her Majester) with the BFG and Sophie, but you can take a royal tour of Buckingham Palace’s state rooms instead. But don’t even think about sliding down the banister of the Grand Staircase!
And staying with Roald Dahl, the House of Illustration is the UK’s only public gallery dedicated to illustration and the graphic arts and founded by Sir Quentin Blake, the illustrator who breathed form into Roald Dahl’s characters. Currently showing is Quentin Blake: Voyages to the Moon and the Sun, the first ever exhibition of Blake’s illustrations for the French literary classic, Cyrano de Bergerac’s 17th century tale of space travel.
Winnie the Pooh
A.A. Milne purchased a stuffed bear from Harrods and gave it to his son, Christopher Robin for his first birthday on the 21 August 1921. The name Winnie the Pooh came from a combination of a black bear named Winnie in London Zoo, and a swan by the name of Pooh in Milne’s poetry, When We Were Very Young. 13 Mallord Street (used to be No 11) in Chelsea is where Christopher Robin was born. You can visit a statue of the real Winnie that Milne and his son loved to visit so much in London Zoo.
A Little Princess
Princesses will be enchanted by this tale of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic childhood novel. It stars Amanda Abbington who played Mrs Watson in the TV adaptation of Sherlock, and is written and conducted by Tony-nominated composer and lyricist Andrew Lippa (Addams Family). One night only at the Royal Festival Hall.
And last but not least, head over to Shakespeare’s Globe for the king of all London literary venues. A tour brings to life colourful stories of the 1599 Globe and examines the reconstruction process in the 1990s. And under the Globe Theatre, an Exhibition explores the life of Shakespeare, the London where he lived, and the theatre for which he wrote. If you get the chance, catch one of their first-class performances. I always say the best seats are the £5 standing tickets in the Yard. This is how to experience the Bard at its most raucous – you’ll feel like you’re a part of the production.
And to finish your literary trip
“Dreams is full of mystery and magic . . . . Do not try to understand them.” Roald Dahl, The BFG
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