MarySmith’sPlace – Visiting Neverland

Today a friend and I went to Neverland, that magical island which was home to Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. We were visiting Moat Brae in Dumfries the garden of which J M Barrie maintained was his inspiration for Neverland. As it was Doors Open this weekend, entrance to the house and garden was free and we were amongst hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors taking advantage of this. Normal entrance fees are £6.50 for adults, £5.00 for children aged five and over and £2.50 for toddlers.

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The exterior of Moat Brae

In 2009, owner of the historic building, Loreburn Housing Association planned to demolish it and build affordable housing on the site. An action group was formed to save and restore the building and garden and it has now opened as a visitor attraction and a National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling.

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The dining room can be hired for events

Moat Brae, which takes its name from the motte or earthwork castle which once stood on the site, was designed in 1823 by local architect Walter Newall for Robert Threshie, a local solicitor. He lived in Moat Brae with his family until 1841 when it was bought by Mrs Babbington, a minister’s widow followed by, on her death in 1863, by Henry Gordon. This is where the J M Barrie connection comes in for Henry Gordon’s two sons, Henry and Stewart, attended Dumfries Academy where they became friendly with James who was living with his older brother Alexander, a schools inspector.

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Peter Pan

The boys spent many hours playing in the gardens by the river. Barrie wrote later: “When shades of light began to fall, certain young mathematicians shed their triangles and crept up trees and down walls in an odyssey which would long after become the play of Peter Pan. For our escapades in a certain Dumfries garden, which is enchanted land to me, were certainly the genesis of that nefarious work.”

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The house passed out of private ownership and was for many years a private hospital and nursing home. In 1914 it was purchased by the Royal Scottish Nursing Institution and was given the title Moat Brae Nursing Home providing a private facility for surgery and medicine and also respite care for the elderly. Later, a businessman from Paisley bought it but was unable to secure the funding he needed to turn it into a themed hotel and sold it to Loreburn Housing Association.

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It is a beautiful house, possibly better appreciated when it is not full to overflowing with excited children and harassed parents. Plenty of activities are available for children in the various rooms including staging a play with scripts available, creative spaces, and lots of things to see and do. The garden is lovely but I have to admit I didn’t feel the magic. Children were obviously having a great time playing on the Jolly Roger. Part of me couldn’t help thinking (grumpy old woman coming to the fore) J M Barrie didn’t need a whacking great pirate ship to feed his imagination.

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Peter Pan flew round the room and also Tinker Bell, which I couldn’t capture. One little girl had a total melt down, floods of tears, every time Tinker Bell flashed by.

 

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20 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace – Visiting Neverland

    • Thanks, Maggie. I think the little girl (who was probably about two) who was terrified on Tinkerbell flashing past has a very strong imagination. She’ll possibly grow up to write horror stories! 🙂

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  1. I think my grandson would love it there, as he is obsessed with Peter Pan. But like you, I find it all rather ‘tacky’, and obviously designed just for children, rather than any adults exploring the background to the literature.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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    • Oh no Pete – there is also a research room containing lots of Arthur Ransome’s works and others things. Plus the mail floor really doesn’t hold much interest for the children (unless they are really precocious!) because it has an exceeding amount of information about J.M. Barrie himself and his career. I actually could see myself sitting in one of the reading rooms on a giant cushion on a rainy afternoon and having to be asked to leave at closing. 😉

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      • The Arthur Ransome room was only open because of Doors Open Day and is usually only for members of the Arthur Ransome Society. I found it the most interesting – perhaps because the woman there was so passionate about the collection and what the man had done besides writing Swallows and Amazons. I wondered about inviting her to talk to the Dumfries Writers next year.

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    • I found the garden disappointing. I think I’d been expecting something bigger and wilder – but I guess you can’t send kids out to play in wild places. As Lynn says below there is lots of information on Barrie which is aimed at adults but what parents of young children can take the time to read information boards when the children want to be off playing. I think it falls between two stools, two different audiences.

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  2. What a great place – except for the pirate ship. Why didn’t they hang rope ladders fromt he trees, or something more adventurous like that?
    I used to walk past the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens on my way to college every day while I was doing a Masters degree. Mind you, that was also the highlight of half-term trips to the Science Museum, when we’d take the tube and walk through the Gardens when I was very young!

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    • In the risk-averse world in which we now bring up children I fear rope ladders in trees are a no no. I’ve never seen the statue in Kensington Gardens (other than pictures of it) but we now have several in Dumfries.

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