Tuesday - 29 July 2014

The tale of how a man was turned into a dormouse

18 December 2006Written by ATG Reporter

JOHN Taylor was the Sawrey joiner and wheelwright, whose wife and stout, elderly daughter, Agnes Anne, kept the village shop immortalised by Beatrix Potter in Ginger and Pickles. But the first Taylor to appear in one of her books was his son, young John, who was the model for the terrier carpenter John Joiner in The Roly Poly Pudding.

When that book appeared in 1908, Old John professed to be jealous of his son's fame. In a good-humoured manner, Miss Potter gently and humorously asked how she could include the now invalided father in one of her tales if he "insisted on living in bed?", but shortly afterwards received a note which read, "John Taylor's compliments and thinks he might pass for a dormouse".

How could she refuse? In the following year Old John became Mr John Dormouse in Ginger and Pickles, a book she dedicated to her old friend, but who sadly didn't live to see it in print.

The forthcoming film on the life and work of Miss Potter, starring Renée Zellweger, may or may not inspire a new entry of collectors into an already well-established and strong market, but this is just the sort of thing that Miss Potter's countless fans love.

A first edition copy of The Roly Poly Pudding that sold for £3000 to Peter Kay in a Dominic Winter sale of December 6 is the one that Beatrix Potter inscribed to Old John Taylor and his wife in December 1908, the book that stirred the bed-bound old man into thinking that he might pass as a dormouse.

By Ian McKay

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