A Trip to the Lake District to discover the story of Beatrix Potter, Summer 2021

by Anita Bowerman October 01, 2021 0 Comments

A Trip to the Lake District to discover the story of Beatrix Potter, Summer 2021

The beauty of the Lake District, a national park, situated to the west of England has inspired numerous artists and writers including me. Perhaps the most famous creatives being the writer William Wordsworth and the children’s book illustrator and author Beatrix Potter and the artist John Ruskin.

Most of us have all grown up with Beatrix Potter’s books, the most famous of which is Peter Rabbit (recently made into a film). Animals are my passion and I really admire how she has captured the character of each animal and bird in her delicate illustrations. So, during a holiday at Lake Windermere recently I booked a tour guide to take us round Beatrix Potter’s world and show us where she lived and her inspiration.

Beatrix Potter, her brother, father and mother were a wealthy Upper-Class family who lived in London. She was first introduced to the Lake District on a family holiday when her father rented the Gothic Revival Wray Castle built in 1840 for Dr James Dawson and his wife. Mr and Mrs Potter entertained many wealthy friends here including Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley who felt the need to preserve natural environment of the Lake District. His views had a profound effect on Beatrix and she and Mr Rawnsley would remain lifelong friends sharing this passion. Canon Rawnsley became one of the three founding members of the National Trust. The castle itself was built to look old to impress Dawson’s friends.

Beatrix grew up surrounded by animals which she loved. She was taught by a governess at home not mixing with other children except her brother. At 9 when the governesses’ child was ill, she wrote a letter to him with a tiny illustration of a Rabbit on, the prelude to Peter Rabbit. It wasn’t until Beatrix was in her thirties that she referred back to this letter and created the story of Peter Rabbit which she self-published, illustrating the story with her wonderful watercolour, pen and ink, illustrations. After this highly successful book was published, she became a full-time author and created a further twenty-nine books using the same format.

With the proceeds from the books, she bought Hill Top House near Sawrey in 1905, her first house. She was not allowed to live in it full time, since it in those days upper class society didn’t allow single women to live alone, instead she used it as an office, perhaps staying overnight on trips from her home in London.

Beatrix furnished the house creatively. It is very homely as she surrounding herself with paintings by her brother, tapestries which she created. A visit to this house is enchanting as you step into her world. The only piece of original artwork by Beatrix is a tile of rabbits which she created at 16. Her father was artistic too, hanging on the wall is a series of ceramic plates which he cleverly illustrated. The house and garden, particularly her vegetable garden, inspired Beatrix and you can spot familiar scenes from her books. It is entrancing looking round the garden and house, full of so much history.

Next a visit to Hawkeshead to the Beatrix Potter gallery. This used to be the office of respected solicitor William Heelys who Beatrix married at 47 years old in 1913. Here some of Beatrix’s book illustrations are displayed including the original letter sent to her governess when she was 9.

Beatrix’s eyesight started failing in her 50s and she could no longer illustrate instead she started breeding flocks of Herdwick Sheep, native to the Lake District. She lived in Hawkeshead in another house, not Hill Top, with William until her death in 1943 at the age of 77. She left almost all her property, 14 farms and 4000 acres of land to the National Trust together with her flocks of Herdwick Sheep



Anita Bowerman
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