It’s nearly Christmas. The snow has fallen and we are in a quaint little street in the centre of 18th century Gloucester. A lone figure leaves his shop and walks home through the snow. There are all the elements for a story here!
Ahead through an arch (St Michael’s Gate) the street leads to Gloucester Cathedral as it towers over the 18th century houses.
‘In the time of swords and periwigs and full-skirted coats with flowered lappets—when gentlemen wore ruffles, and gold-laced waistcoats of paduasoy and taffeta—there lived a tailor in Gloucester.‘Opening words of Beatrix Potter’s ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’.
But the tailor was worried. The order he was working on was not finished and the deadline was approaching. The pieces of cloth for the grand coat and waistcoat for the Mayor’s forthcoming wedding were cut out but not stitched together. But there was no more twist with which to finish off the elaborate button-holes and the tailor was tired, ‘worn to a ravelling‘. Wearily he closed his shop in the evening and trudged home through the snow feeling very unwell. He stayed in bed for the next few days. Early on Christmas morning, feeling better for the rest, he went to open the shop. But a surprise awaited him! There was the coat all sewn together except for one unfinished button-hole with a note beside it which read ‘No more twist‘. It was all ‘passing extraordinary‘ as the tailor would have said.
How did it happen …?
Beatrix Potter was a gifted artist as well as a storyteller. She stayed with a relative in Gloucester in order to sketch the street scenes and the quaint little shop (now a museum- see above) upon which she based her story. Using 18th century English for her text, she even visited a tailor’s shop in Chelsea and the South Kensington Museum in London to sketch authentic 18th century furnishings and clothes. For young and old she has left us with a classic children’s story and a delightful picture of 18th century Gloucester.
The story was based upon a real incident involving a young tailor in Gloucester. The mice were added on in a local Gloucester legend which was elaborated by Beatrix’s own imagination – or was it?
She wrote this story as a present for a young friend:
MY DEAR FREDA,
Because you are fond of fairy-tales, and have been ill, I have made you a story all for yourself—a new one that nobody has read before. And the queerest thing about it is—that I heard it in Gloucestershire, and that it is true—at least about the tailor, the waistcoat, and the
“No more twist!”Beatrix Potter – Christmas, 1901
She was later persuaded to publish the story in 1903. Out of all her children’s stories this was her favourite.
It was my mother’s too. Having been born and growing up in Gloucestershire, she always delighted to read this story to our own children. Having spent 7 years living ‘down the road’ in Bristol I feel some of my roots are here and I love the story too.
Now go on ! Re-read this engaging tale again even if only to enjoy a delightful look back to 18th century Gloucester and those captivating paintings of Beatrix Potter.
But there is much more to say about Gloucester, but that must wait until another time. This brief post is a simple Christmas ‘stocking filler‘, to bring some cheer. In the meantime, after a very difficult year, just as the tailor opened up his shop to a great surprise, we also look to open a new year to find something ‘passing extraordinary‘. At least we are relieved and thankful to God that the new Covid vaccine has at last begun to arrive. That’s a good start!