You would not think that researching a crime novel would lead a writer to Peter Pan.
But the trail definitively ended with the boy who never grew up. A crucial scene of my novel takes place in Saint Christopher’s Chapel in the Great Ormond Street Hospital and, once I was there, well – his fingerprints were all over it.
The Great Ormond Street Hospital is the largest centre for child heart surgery in Britain. It has been a trail-blazer in many areas of paediatric medicine – in 1962, staff there developed the first heart and lung bypass machine for children, and with the help of popular children’s author, Roald Dahl, they also developed an improved shunt valve for children with hydrocephalus.
The hospital itself was founded in 1852, with just ten beds, and was the first to provide in-hospital care just for children in England. Since then, patrons have included Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens and Princess Diana.
The astonishing St Christopher’s Chapel was built 23 years later.
It was designed by Edward Barry, son of the man who designed the Houses of Parliament. He donated his services in memory of one of his own children, who had died in infancy.
It was built in an elaborate Franco-Italianate style, with a terrazzo floor designed by Antonio Salviati, who used the pavement in St Mark’s Basilica in Venice as his inspiration.
As it was intended to provide a place of prayer for the families of sick children, many of its details keep to that theme. The stained glass in the chapel, for instance, depicts the Nativity and Jesus’s childhood.
What really sets the chapel apart is the row of teddy bears and other soft toys on a ledge behind the altar, left behind by families of sick children, and known as the “Teddy Bear Choir”. Unfortunately, the day we visited, the teddy bears had been removed for cleaning. I guess some of them have been cuddling up there for a very long time.
There is also a prayer tree where prayers can be left for sick children at the hospital.
The chapel is both moving and astonishing at the same time.
And the connection to Peter Pan?
John Barrie, the author of the book and the play, had supported the hospital for many years and in 1929 he was asked to sit on a committee to help build a much-needed new wing of the hospital. He declined, but said he might be able to help in another way. Two months later, the board was stunned to discover that Barrie had donated the royalties from Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street.
His only caveat was that the amount raised for the hospital never be revealed, and the Board has always honoured that promise.
But it was an extravagant gift.
The House of Lords sprinkled more fairy dust on it in 1988, when it voted for a special clause to be inserted in the Copyright Designs & Patents Act, that would allow the hospital the right to those royalties in perpetuity.
You can visit the chapel at any time. But to find out why it’s so important to my novel, you’ll have to wait until publication in October next year – when no doubt, I will remind you again.
Until then, stay young.
When fiery and idealistic Kitty O’Kane escapes the crushing poverty of Dublin’s tenements, she’s determined that no one should ever suffer like she did. As she sets out to save the world, she finds herself at the forefront of events that shaped the early twentieth century. While working as a maid, she survives the sinking of the Titanic. As a suffragette in New York’s Greenwich Village, she’s jailed for breaking storefront windows. And traveling war-torn Europe as a journalist, she’s at the Winter Palace when it’s stormed by the Bolsheviks. Ultimately she returns to her homeland to serve as a nurse in the Irish Civil War.
During Kitty’s remarkable journey, she reunites with her childhood sweetheart, Tom Doyle, but Tom doesn’t know everything about her past—a past that continues to haunt her. Will Kitty accept that before she can save everyone else, she needs to find a way to save herself? Or will the sins of her past stop her from pursuing her own happiness?