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English Boys Clothing during the 1890s and 1900s: The Llewellyn-Davies Family

Figure 1.--George is pictured here with his mother Slyvia in 1900. He wears his beret very rakishly. Did mother fix it like that? Note the collar which we now call a Peter Pan collar that he wears with his smock. As in this photograph, the boys sometimes wore belts outside their smocks. Barrie took the photograph.

Perhaps the most beloved literary characters of all time is Peter Pan. The story was written by J.M. Barie and first presented on stage in 1904. He developed the story in the process of telling stories to the children of a family he met in Kensington Gardens, the Llewellyn-Davies boys. The main character is named after one of the boys, Peter. The ways the boys were dressed provides a glimpse of how English boys were dressed at the turn of the century. Both parents died when they were still young boys. The story of the boys as adults, however, is very sad.

Sir James Matthew Barrie

Sir James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937), is the Scottish dramacist and novelist who wrote Peter Pan. He was born at Kirriemuir, Forfarshire. I have little information on his childhood or what he wore as a boy. James for the first 6 years of his life, lived in the shadow of his elder brother David. Just before his 14th birthday, David was killed in a skating accident. James soon realised that, by dying so young, David would remain a boy forever in the minds of all those who had known him.

J.M. Barrie

J.M. Barrie by the late 1890s was a successful writer both in Britain and the United States. He was married to the actress Mary Ansell but they had no children, which was a great tragedy of his life as he so loved children. The fact that he had no children of his own, didn't stop him from meeting children. One of these was a 4-year-old girl called

Figure 2.--This TV production shows how the Llewellyn-Davies boys may have been dressed in smocks for informal play around the house.
Margaret who called Barrie "my friendy". Because she couldn't pronounce her "r"'s, the word "friendy" often sounded like "fwendy" or "wendy". She died when she was 6 but Barrie immortalised her in Peter Pan by calling his heroine Wendy, a name that he created.

The Llewellyn-Davies Family

Barrie's London home was very close to Kensington Gardens and it was here that he first met the Llewellyn Davies boys--George, Jack and Peter. Soon he was a frequent visitor to their house where he would tell the boys stories. One of these stories was about the youngest boy, Peter, who, according to Barrie, would one day fly away to Kensington Gardens so that he might be a boy forever. When children died, Peter would take them on a journey to a place called Never Never Land. When George heard the story, he said that "dying must be an awfully big adventure!". Barrie wrote the words down. They would later became the most famous words spoken in Peter Pan.

Figure 3.--Actual photographs confirm that the Llewellyn-Davies boys were dressed in smocks, knickers, and floppy hats for informal play around the house. This photograph shows George and Jack in 1897. This was the year Peter was born.

The Parents

Barrie described the boys' mother Sylvia as "the most beautiful creature I had ever seen". She was apparently intreaged by the interest of a famous novelis and play write. The boys' father, Arthur Llewellyn Davies, who had always resented Barrie's interference with his family, died of cancer.

I am not sure of the background of either family. Llewellyn is a Welsh name. The only Llewellyn I know of at the time was Sir. William Llewellyn (1863-1941), a well regarded painter who painted many portraits including some of Queen Mary.

Figure 4.--The BBC production suggests that the boys would wear their smocks for outing to the parks. I am not positive that this was the case as some mothers at the time dresses their sons more formally for park outings.

Barrie's Relationship with the Family

J.M. Barrie's relationship with the Llewellyn family continued and soon two more boys were born, Michael and Nico. Michael soon became Barrie's favourite and he even took photographs of him dressed as Peter Pan. When Sylvia also died of cancer, Barrie took on the role of the boys' father. But soon tragedy was to follow the boys.

The BBC in the late 1970s in its TV production of the The Lost Boys, delt with the relationship between J.M. Barrie and Llewellyn-Davies family. The BBC usually makes an effort to deal accurately with costuming and did so in this case.

The Boys


George was the oldest brother. He wast tragically killed in March, 1915, a victim of World War I. It is amazing in researching British family history how many families

Figure 5.--George is pictured here in a floppy beret and smock.
suffered similar tagedies. When one visits England, the many churches scattered throughout the country leave a legger open, often two for each World War. The ledger contains the names of Parish soldiers killed in the wars. In many churches the books are massive. The pages are carefully turned each day.


I have no information on Jack.


Peter was the youngest of the first three brothers and became the name sake of the hero in Peter Pan. Peter grew up to be a publisher, but at 63-years of age in 1960, commited suicide by throwing himself under a train at London's Sloane Square tube station.

Figure 6.--The three oldest brothers, Peter, George, and Jack are pictured here in 1899. Notice Peter's cap. Barrie took the photograph.


Michael of course was the name sake of one of the three Darling children in Peter Pan. He was reportedly Barrie's favorite and Barrie photographed him costumed as Peter Pan. The photo was the model for the famous statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

Michael who could not swim drowned in the Thames during May 1921. Barrie later referred to him as the boy "that will never be old".


I have no information on Nico.

The Boys' Clothes

The boys show how a middle class English family may have dressed their young sons for play around the house and perhaps a leisurely outing in the park in the early 1900s: loose smocks, a beret-style hat, and matching knickerbockers. This may not have, however, been the most common attire for boys. The Llewellyn Davis family were quite progressive in outlook, and therefore dressed their sons in a more free and easy "Frenchified" style. This contrasted with the more buttoned up English fashions for children at the time. The outfits in the TV program depicted here appear to be loosely based on family photographs.

Figure 7.--The boys other seems to have been partial to berets which at the time were considered to be French fashion.

Some of the interesting details on the children's clothing include:
Caps: There mother seems to have liked floppy berets, presumably red ones. Available photographs suggest that this was what they worn from day to day. One photograph shows Peter as a very young boy wearing a floppy, French-looking sailor cap.
Smocks: The boys always seemed to have worn smocks while at home. They are loose fitting garments, sometimes worn with belts. I'm not sure whose idea the belts were and who decided if they would wear belts on a given day. Did the boys want to wear belts with their smocks? Did thy have to get permission to do so? Or did they not care? There is no reason to wear a belt with as smock, except for appearance sake. The belt does give a more boyish look to a smock. The boys' smocks appear to have always light-colored smocks. They are all back buttoning, as were all the smocks at that time, with collars tightly fitting around the neck. These images are interesting, because boys at the time usually dressed up to have rather formal pictures taken. Thus even if they wore smocks commonly at home, they were not often photographed in smocks. Thus it is some what unclear how common English smocks were. As Barrie often photographed the boys, these pictures are less staged and more realistic images of how the boys were commonly dresses from day to day.
Peter Pan collars: Many of the old photographs are inditinct. Some of the smocks appear to have no collar. At least one image, however, shows a smock with a small collar, cut in the style we now refer to as a Peter Pan collar.
Knickers: The boys wear knicker-style bloomer pants with long wool stockings. They appear to have worn these knickers at knee length.

Figure 8.--The BBC notably omitted collars on the boys' smocks. Actual photographs show that the boys did commonly wear berets. I am not sure, however, that they were red.

Boys' Attitudes

I do not have any information yet on what the boys thought of their smocks and berets. Presumably they wore them until about 8 years of age. I do not know yet, but I assume that at that age they were sent off to board at a preparatory school. The available photographs show the boys up to about age 8.

One interesting question is what happened after the older boys started school and wearing their school uniforms. When they came come for the holidays and summer did they have to put their smocks and berets back on, or did they no longer wear them. Also once the older boys stopped wearing smocks and berets, did the younger boys then begin to object to wearing them.


Interesting details can be found in Andrew Birkin's , upon which the TV script for The Lost Boys is based.

Christopher Wagner


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Last updated: March 17, 1999