Beatrix Potter

by Charles King, circa 1913

, who was born on 28 July 1866 in South Kensington, London, had a very lonely childhood as she was educated at home and even her younger brother, Bertram, was rarely at home as he was sent to boarding school. She surrounded herself with many pets, she had two rabbits who she named Benjamin and Peter, frogs, ferrets, dogs and even a pet bat. She would watch and sketch them, eventually her sketches got better and better.

Beatrix enjoyed her childhood holidays in the Lake District with her family, and it was here that the ideas for her stories of Jemima Puddleduck, Peter Rabbit and friends developed. However, it was Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, who was vicar of Wray Church which is on the west shore of Lake Windermere near the village of Ambleside and who became friendly with the Potter family while they were staying at Wray Castle, who encouraged her to publish her first book. This first book was called The Tale of Peter Rabbit. At The Armitt Museum in Ambleside you will find a version of Peter Rabbit, with pictures by Beatrix Potter and text which was done by Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley.

However, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, who was one of the founders of the National Trust, also led Beatrix Potter to become a great supporter of the organisation. She bought land and stock, with the guidance of a local solicitor William Heelis, with the earnings from her books and was so successful that the farmers chose her as chairman of the Herdwick sheep breeders association. She also purchased Hill Top Farm in the village of Near Sawrey, and it was from here that she wrote many of her Peter Rabbit stories.

Beatrix was also an expert mycologist, her set of detailed watercolours of fungi is in The Armitt Museum in Ambleside. After her parents died she used her inheritance to buy more farms and land. Beatrix married William Heelis in 1913 at the age of 47 and moved to Hill Top Farm permanently. A few years later they moved to Castle Cottage, as Beatrix felt that Hilltop was too small for two people. She died here on 22 December 1943 and her ashes were scattered in the countryside near Sawrey. However, in her will she left almost all her property to the National Trust, which made her one of the National Trust’s biggest benefactors. The World of Beatrix Potter Exhibition, which is in Bowness on Windermere, is a magical place for all to visit.

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