England’s Lake District in the life and legacy of Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter was born on the 28th July 1866 in South Kensington, London.  She died, 77 years, later in the village of Sawrey in the Lake District, Cumbria.   At the time of her death, she had made a fortune writing books for children.  She left fourteen farms and 4000 acres of land to the National Trust.

Beatrix Potter’s connection with the Lake District

Beatrix’s father was a barrister.  He was also very interested in photography and the environment, so the family spent long summer holidays (up to 3 to 4 months) in the countryside, initially in Scotland but later, for 21 years in the Lake District of England.

The jetty at Lake Windermere
The jetty at Lake Windermere

Her first holiday in the Lake District was at Wray Castle, on the shores of Lake Windermere.   It was a Gothic Revival castle built by the Dawson family – who had acquired their money through the production of gin.   It was here that Beatrix was introduced to Canon Hardwick Rawnsey, one of the instigators of the National Trust.   He took a great interest in her drawings and encouraged her to publish her first book ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’.

Today, you can arrive at Wray Castle by the Windermere Steam Cruises.   Beatrix Potter’s favourite room at Wray Castle was the library – where there is now a Peter Rabbit Adventure Room for younger visitors.

A lonely childhood

Beatrix’s childhood was lonely – since she was home educated by a governess.   Her friends were her pet animals that she learned to draw.   Six years later her brother, Bertram, was born.  He was destined to a different lifestyle and was sent to away to boarding school at a young age.   It was through the family friendship with the renowned Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir John Everett Millais that Beatrix gained an insight into the world of artists – along with many visits to the Royal Academy in London.   Whilst painting lichens and fungi, her scientific interests increased.   A visit to the Armitt Museum in Ambleside is a fascinating insight into her drawings and personal first editions.

Hilltop Cottage, Beatrix Potter's home
Hilltop Cottage, Beatrix Potter’s home

Early writings

In 1893, she started to write to a child, the son of her own governess.  She addressed her letter ‘My dear Noel, I don’t know what to write to you so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits’… and so the story of Peter Rabbit began.   The first farm she bought with her earnings from The Tale of Peter Rabbit was Hill Top in 1905, part investment and part holiday home to escape from her parents.   It is now owned by the National Trust.   Hill Top is the base of many of Beatrix’s stories.

The village of Hawkshead, Lake District
The village of Hawkshead, Lake District

 

In the nearby village of Hawkshead is the Beatrix Potter Gallery, a 17th century house owned by the National Trust, that houses a fine collection of Beatrix Potter’s artwork.

Contributor: Jan Nicholson

Jan is a British Blue Badge Guide with an extensive knowledge of Beatrix Pottter, the Lake District and Cumbria. Jan runs frequent private tours of the area and also owns the well-known Kendal hostel.

For more information, please contact Jan at:

http://www.kendalhostel.com/contact

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