Saturday 29 December 2012

The north shore of the Serpentine near the bridge is now definitely the Egyptian Quarter. The birds wade in the floods and browse on the freshly laid green turf. Some people were feeding them, attracting a crowd of over 60 birds.

Other flooded areas are covered with Black-Headed and Common Gulls, busily eating worms, insects and other small creatures washed up on the surface of the water.

Near the Italian Garden, a Little Grebe caught an inconveniently large fish, which it had some difficulty in swallowing ...

... but finally succeeded.

A reader of this blog alerted me to a strange event reported on the Daily Mail web site on 14 September. An unknown man gave a copy of an illustrated first edition of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens to an Oxfam charity shop in Alderley Edge, Cheshire; perhaps he was unaware of its rarity and value. This book, written in 1906 and with pictures by the famous illustrator Arthur Rackham, was the inspiration for Sir George Frampton's 1912 statue of Peter Pan beside the Long Water, but is now almost forgotten, overshadowed by Barrie's play Peter Pan of two years earlier.

Some of the pictures are reproduced in the online article. Aside from the fantasy of the story, many views will be familiar to people who know Kensington Gardens: the Serpentine Bridge, the lines of wooden posts in the lake, and the Albert Memorial. The first picture in the article, showing the hidden life of the park unsuspected by a visitor, clearly inspired Ivor Innes's carved Elfin Oak of 1928-30 which now stands at the entrance to the Diana memorial playground.

One of the figures in Barrie's fantasy is a wise old Carrion Crow called Solomon Caw. Barrie lived at 100 Bayswater Road, whose front faces Kensington Gardens in the middle of the large colony of crows in the northwestern corner of the park. He would have had crows in his front garden and it seems likely that he was personally acquainted with some of these intelligent birds. Rackham's caricaturish pictures of Solomon Caw are typical of his portrayals of corvids; see also his illustration to the Scottish ballad 'The Twa Corbies', where the birds are Ravens but look much the same. Solomon Caw doesn't appear on the base of the Peter Pan statue, where the only birds are a couple of bronze House Sparrows (a species now sadly gone from the park). But this hardly matters, because the area in front of the statue is constantly visited by real crows coming to be fed by the visitors.


  1. Thank you so much for the link to the Peter Pan book. I simply adore Arthur Rackham's drawings, his and Edmund Dulac's. Seeing ones situated in an area with which I am becoming increasingly familiar, was a special treat.

  2. There is a complete text of _Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens_, with all Arthur Rackham's illustrations, at
    The pictures can be blown up by clicking on them, though the download is a bit slow.