First edition cover
|Publisher||Frederick Warne & Co.|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|Preceded by||The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin|
|Followed by||The Tale of Benjamin Bunny|
The Tailor of Gloucester is a children's book written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, privately printed by the author in 1902, and published in a trade edition by Frederick Warne & Co. in October 1903. The story is about a tailor whose work on a waistcoat is finished by the grateful mice he rescues from his cat and was based on a real world incident involving a tailor and his assistants. For years, Potter declared that of all her books it was her personal favourite.
A tailor in Gloucester sends his cat Simpkin to buy food and a twist of cherry-coloured silk to complete a waistcoat commissioned by the mayor for his wedding on Christmas morning. Whilst Simpkin is gone, the tailor finds mice the cat has imprisoned under teacups. The mice are released and scamper away. When Simpkin returns and finds his mice gone, he hides the twist in anger.
The tailor falls ill and is unable to complete the waistcoat, but, upon returning to his shop, he is surprised to find the waistcoat finished. The work has been done by the grateful mice. However, one buttonhole remains unfinished because there was "no more twist!" Simpkin gives the tailor the twist to complete the work and the success of the waistcoat makes the tailor's fortune.
In the summer of 1901, Potter was working on The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, but took time to develop a tale about a poor tailor she heard in the Gloucestershire home of her cousin Caroline Hutton probably in 1897. The tale was finished by Christmas 1901, and presented as a holiday gift to ten-year-old Freda Moore, the daughter of her former governess.
The tale was based on a real world incident involving John Pritchard (1877-1934), a Gloucester tailor commissioned to make a suit for the new mayor. He returned to his shop on a Monday morning to find the suit completed except for one buttonhole. A note attached read, "No more twist". His assistants had finished the coat in the night, but Pritchard encouraged a fiction that fairies had done the work and the incident became a local legend. Although Pritchard was a contemporary of Potter's (he was about eleven years her junior and in his twenties when the incident took place), Potter's tailor is shown as "a little old man in spectacles, with a pinched face, old crooked fingers," and the action of The Tailor of Gloucester takes place in the 18th century.
Potter sketched the Gloucester street where the tailor's shop stood as well as cottage interiors, crockery, and furniture. The son of Hutton's coachman posed as a model for the tailor. In Chelsea, Potter was allowed to sketch the interior of a tailor's shop to whose proprietor she would later send a copy. She visited the costume department at the South Kensington Museum to refine her illustrations of 18th century dress.
Potter later borrowed Freda Moore's gift copy, revised the work, and privately printed the tale in December 1902. She marketed the book among family and friends and sent a copy to her publisher who made numerous cuts in both text and illustrations for the trade edition, chiefly among the tale's many nursery rhymes.
Squirrel Nutkin was published in August 1903 and Tailor in October 1903. Both were published in deluxe editions bound in a flowered chintz of scattered pansies the author selected. The familiar illustrated endpapers of Potter characters in a chain bordering the edges of the page were introduced in both books against Potter's better judgement. However, Warne was delighted with the commercial potential of the endpapers because new characters hinting at future titles could be worked into the design at any time.
Potter gave a copy of the book to her Chelsea tailor who, in turn, displayed it to a representative of the trade journal, The Tailor & Cutter. The journal's review appeared on Christmas Eve 1903:
[...] we think it is by far the prettiest story connected with tailoring we have ever read, and as it is full of that spirit of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men, we are not ashamed to confess that it brought the moisture to our eyes, as well as the smile to our face. It is got up in choicest style and illustrated by twenty-seven of the prettiest pictures it is possible to imagine.
In 1993, the tale was adapted to animation for the BBC anthology series, The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends. Derek Griffiths was the voice of Simpkin and Ian Holm the tailor. The episode was dedicated to Dianne Jackson who died of cancer on New Year's Eve 1992.