For the teenager James Matthew Barrie, the sloping, terraced garden overlooking a gentle river was an enchanted land where he and his friends became pirates, clambered over walls, built hideouts and scaled trees in the sunshine.
However, the back garden of Moat Brae, a late Georgian villa in the rural Scottish town of Dumfries, became more than a playground for the aspiring novelist and playwright. Thirty years later, it inspired Neverland, the magical kingdom where Peter Pan and Tinkerbell flew into battle against Captain Hook, an adventure that has captured the imagination of millions of children.
Now, nearly 140 years after J.M. Barrie played there, the mansion and gardens are to be transformed into a national center for children’s literature, after the derelict and decaying building and its garden were saved from demolition by a local trust.
Supported by the actor Joanna Lumley, who has a holiday home nearby, the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust has launched a global appeal for ￡4 million (US$6.5 million) to save the house from ruin and return it and the garden to their original splendor.
Cathy Agnew, the trust’s project director, said restoring the garden — the target of years of vandalism and garbage dumping — was an essential part of their plans to celebrate its reputation as the birthplace of Peter Pan.
The garden will be replanted with shrubs and new trees, to add to the two surviving cedars, a flowering cherry and a tulip tree. It will also feature a Peter Pan-themed play area.
“Working with others, we suddenly realized that we should become Scotland’s first center for children’s literature,” Agnew said.
“The house and the garden are inextricably linked, and Neverland will be a learning garden, a teaching garden and playing garden where every plant will tell a story. We will keep as much of the original garden that J.M. Barrie would have known as we can,” she said.
Although he was born and raised near Dundee, Barrie lived in Dumfries for five years with his older brother, Alexander, a schools inspector 20 years his senior, and their sister, Mary, who was their housekeeper. He was a pupil at Dumfries academy beside Moat Brae and became close friends with the two boys of the house.