Who hasn’t heard of Peter Rabbit? Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail? Jemima Puddleduck? Squirrel Nutkin?
All these were the creation of Beatrix Potter, author and illustrator, and many of them were created when Beatrix lived in the Lake District.
Helen Beatrix Potter was born in London in 1866 and, from an early age, showed a talent for drawing and painting, and also an interest in wild-life. She published her first book, ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ at her own expense, but the following year it was re-published by Frederick Warne and Company. After that, she produced 2 or 3 of the small format books each year, which were very popular because of her delightful illustrations, her depiction of countryside and the characteristics she gave to her animals.
In 1905, Beatrix used some of her income from her books to buy Hill Top Farm in a small hamlet near the village of Hawkshead in the southern Lakes. What many people don’t realise about Beatrix is that, as well as being an author and artist, she also became keenly interested in the breeding and raising of the Lakeland Herdwick sheep and, after buying another farm on the east side of Windermere, she became one of the main Herdwick sheep farmers in the area.
She was also committed to land conservation and preservation, bought large tracts of land, and eventually donated all her property and land to the National Trust, which still holds and cares for that land today.
In 1913, she married a local solicitor, William Heelis, and his office, in the village of Hawkshead, is now ‘The Beatrix Potter Gallery’ with many of her paintings and sketches.
She died in 1943, but when I started visiting the Lakes in the 60’s, I got to know several older people who remembered her doing her shopping in the village. The farmer’s wife (at the farm where we had our caravan) described her succinctly: “Aye, she were a funny ol’ woman, but yer ‘ad to admire ‘er for everythin’ she did around ‘ere.”