The Tailor of Gloucester is a children's fantasy story by the British author and illustrator Beatrix Potter. It was the third of Potter's children's books to be commercially published, following The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. It is the only one of Potter's stories which takes place at Christmastime. In a December 23, 1919 letter to Lady Warren, Beatrix Potter stated that, of all the children's books that she had written, The Tailor of Gloucester was her favorite.
As she had earlier done with The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter originally wrote The Tailor of Gloucester as an illustrated letter that was intended to cheer up a child who had been ill. Whereas The Tale of Peter Rabbit was written for Noel Moore, the son of Potter's former governess Anne Moore, The Tailor of Gloucester was written for Anne Moore's daughter Frieda. The letter was sent to Frieda Moore in December 1901. Beatrix Potter later borrowed the illustrated letter from Fiona Moore in order to revise and expand the story for publication. The Tailor of Gloucester was published privately in December 1902 and copies were distributed among Potter's friends and relatives. The book was first published commercially by Frederick Warne & Co. in October 1903. The privately published edition of The Tailor of Gloucester includes the lyrics of several Christmas carols and folk songs. Those song lyrics are not included in the commercially published version.
The story takes place in the city of Gloucester in the 18th century. Its title character is a tailor who is hard-working but poor. The Mayor of Gloucester, who is to be married on Christmas Day, has asked the tailor to make him a jacket and vest for his wedding. Having run out of twisted silk (or "twist"), which is needed to sew the vest together, the tailor sends his cat Simpkin to go out and buy some more. When Simpkin finds out that the tailor has released some mice which he trapped earlier, the cat spitefully hides the twist. The tailor does not have any money with which to buy more twist. He thinks that he will be unable to finish making the mayor's clothes and will be financially ruined as a result. Fortunately for him, the mice come to his aid.
The Tailor of Gloucester is inspired by real events, which Beatrix Potter probably first heard about while visiting her cousin Caroline Hutton in Gloucestershire in 1897. A Gloucester tailor named John Pritchard (1877-1934) had been asked to make a suit for the mayor. He arrived at work one Monday morning to find the suit completed, except for one buttonhole. Pinned to the buttonhole was a piece of paper on which was written, "No more twist." Although John Pritchard found out that some of his assistants had stayed in his shop overnight and had finished making the clothes, he was happy to encourage the local belief that fairies had done the work for him.
There have been several adaptations of The Tailor of Gloucester for the small screen.
In 18th century Gloucester there lives a tailor. Although he is hard-working and makes clothes from fine materials, the tailor is very poor. He lives in a single rented room which he shares with his cat Simpkin. The tailor is very careful to waste as little cloth as possible. He often comments that the few tiny scraps of cloth that he cannot use are only big enough to make vests for mice. Indeed, the mice that live in the tailor's shop do make use of those tiny scraps of material.
The Mayor of Gloucester is to be married at noon on Christmas Day. He asks the tailor to make him a finely embroidered jacket and vest to wear on his wedding day. By the time that he finishes work on the snowy evening four days before Christmas, the tailor has placed all the pieces of cloth and buttons which are to be made into the jacket and vest on a table. He plans to sew them together the following day, although he knows that he does not have enough cherry-colored twisted silk (or "twist") to finish making the vest. As the tailor leaves his shop, the mice do too. Unlike the tailor, the mice do not have to go out into the street because they use secret tunnels which connect all the old houses in Gloucester.
When he returns home, the tailor gives four pence, which is all the money that he has, to his cat Simpkin. He tells the cat to go out and buy bread, milk, sausages and some cherry-colored twisted silk. The tailor tells the cat that the twist is the most important item in the list of things he has asked him to buy. If the tailor gets the twist, he will be able to finish making the mayor's clothes and his fortune will be assured. If he does not get the twist, he will be ruined.
After Simpkin has gone, the tailor hears a tapping sound. He finds that the sound is coming from an upturned teacup. He lifts up the teacup and finds that there is a mouse underneath it. The tailor hears more tapping coming from more teacups and bowls. He lifts each of them up and releases all of the mice that had been trapped underneath them. He realizes that the mice were trapped by Simpkin. He wonders if he has done the right thing by depriving the cat of what he would have considered his property. The tailor is tired and is starting to feel ill. He talks to himself about all the work that he still has to do to complete the mayor's clothes. The mice listen to him intently. All of the mice then leave the house where the tailor lives by the secret passages.
Simpkin returns home, feeling angry about having had to go out in the snow. He puts the bread, sausages and milk on the table. He then begins to look for the mice which he trapped earlier. The tailor asks Simpkin for the twist. Angry at not being able to find the mice and acting out of spite, Simpkin hides the twist in a teapot. Believing that he will not be able to finish making the mayor's clothes and that he will remain penniless as a result, the sad tailor goes to bed. He becomes seriously ill with a fever and keeps repeating the words, "No more twist", in his sleep. The tailor remains ill in bed for three days. During that time, the pieces of cloth and buttons which the tailor laid out on his table remain untouched inside his locked up shop. Simpkin also continues to search the tailor's rented room for the mice during that time. He does not find any.
On Christmas Eve, the hungry Simpkin goes out in search of the mice. He goes out as midnight strikes on Christmas Eve, the time when animals can talk. Simpkin hears the sound of small voices singing coming from the tailor's shop. He sees a light coming from the shop's window. He is unable to get inside the shop because the door is locked. Through the window, however, he can see mice at work, sewing together the mayor's jacket and vest. Having seen the good mice helping the tailor, Simpkin realizes that he has been bad. He returns home and finds the tailor sleeping peacefully, his fever having passed.
When the tailor wakes up on Christmas Day, he sees Simpkin standing next to his bed and the cherry-colored twist on his quilt. The tailor goes to his shop immediately but fears that he will not have enough time or energy to finish making the mayor's clothe before the wedding at noon that day. When he goes inside his shop, the tailor sees the jacket and vest completed, except for one buttonhole on the vest. Pinned to the buttonhole is a piece of paper with the words, "NO MORE TWIST", written on it in tiny handwriting.
The tailor becomes rich and successful. He makes clothes for all of the wealthiest people in Gloucester and Gloucestershire. The tailor's customers are amazed by the tiny stitches that he uses in sewing buttonholes, They think that the buttonholes look just as if they were sewed by mice.
Jazz musician George Melly reads The Tailor of Gloucester in an episode of the long-running BBC TV children's program Jackanory. The episode was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on January 9, 1967.
A straight-to-video adaptation of The Tailor of Gloucester, made by the American film company Rabbit Ear Productions, was released in 1988. The story is narrated by Meryl Streep. Music is provided by the Irish band The Chieftains.
A live-action musical TV movie based on The Tailor of Gloucester was produced by Dreamscape Co. and Thames Television. It was first shown on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on December 28, 1989. The TV movie features choristers from Gloucester Cathedral and Winchester College, children from the Royal Ballet School and an international cast of singers and dancers. A young Jude Law, in his first screen appearance, plays the mayor's stable boy. Simpkin the cat is played by François Testory. Ian Holm stars as the tailor.
Ian Holm also provides the voice of the tailor in an animated adaptation of The Tailor of Gloucester which was made for the fifth episode of the British TV series The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends. The episode first aired on the Family Channel in the United States on November 26, 1993 and first aired on BBC 1 in the United Kingdom on December 24, 1993. Simpkin the cat is voiced by the popular British children's entertainer and comic actor Derek Griffiths.
- ↑ The idea that animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve exists in the folklore of several European countries. This belief is also referred to in the humorous short story "Bertie's Christmas Eve" by Saki. According to some folktales, anyone who overhears the talking animals on that night is likely to hear something highly unpleasant about his or her future.