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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Beatrix Potter

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter, mycologist, writer and Lakeland farmer. For those who want a brief introduction to her life, here's a section from the 2016 Dymond Guide to the Lake District and Cumbria.....

If it wasn’t for Beatrix Potter’s parents changing their holiday habit of visiting Scotland, her tales might have had an entirely different setting. But in 1882, after years of summer holidays in Perthshire, the Potters rented Wray Castle near Ambleside. At Wray the vicar was Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley who left a lasting impression on the 16 year old girl with his views on countryside conservation. He later became one of the founders of the National Trust.

Even though she was a farmer for 30 years of her life, it is the children’s books which Potter produced over a much shorter time which made her famous.

Born in London to a wealthy barrister and his wife, she was encouraged from an early age to draw and paint. Through the study and observation of plants and animals came her great ability as an illustrator, particularly of fungi and natural history. She continued to join her parents on holidays in her thirties, many of them in the Lake District. In 1896 the family went to Near Sawrey for the first time, a place she became smitten with. Nine years later she purchased Hill Top Farm (pic).

Her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, had originated in 1893 in an illustrated letter to a young boy. The eventual publisher was Frederick Warne whose son, Norman, was engaged to Potter for a short time before his premature death in 1905. Hill Top Farm provided the backdrop for several of her books and for famous characters like Tom Kitten and Jemima Puddle-Duck. But it was also the catalyst for a new life as a farmer. She increased the livestock at Hill Top, bought another farm at Sawrey in 1909 and then four years later married local solicitor William Heelis.

The couple didn’t live at Hill Top but Potter kept it on and in 1924 bought a third farm at Troutbeck near Windermere. For the next 19 years this was her major interest: only four of her ‘small’ books were written after her marriage. Elected chairman of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association, she died before she could take up the post, bequeathing about 4,000 acres (1,619 ha) of the Lake District and 15 farms to the National Trust (pic).

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