Local Famous People: Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter and The Lake District

Beatrix Potter portrait

Beatrix Potter's love affair with the Lake District started early and she soon established her home here. Beatrix Potter was born on 28th July 1866 in South Kensington London. She lived a lonely secluded life at home, educated by a governess, she had little contact with people but she had many pet animals which she studied and made drawings of.

Initially her parents were to take her for a 12 week holiday in Scotland but they had to change their plans and so they came to Wray Castle near Ambleside in the Lake District. She was 16 at the time and whilst at the Castle her parents entertained many important people, including Hardwicke Rawnsley the vicar of Wray Church who in 1895 became one of the founders of The National Trust.

His views on the need to preserve the natural beauty of the Lake District had a lasting profound effect on Beatrix Potter, who had fallen in love with the unspoilt beauty surrounding their holiday home.

Beatrix Potter and her family holidayed on and off for the next 21 years in the Lake District staying once at Wray Castle, once at Fawe Park, twice at Holehird and 9 times at Lingholme by Derwent Water. Beatrix loved Derwentwater and exploring Catbells behind Lingholme. She watched squirrels in the woods, saw rabbits in the vegetable gardens of the big house and she made many sketches of the landscape.

The family had remained in contact with Rev Rawnsley, who after 5 years at Wray Castle moved to Crosthwaite Church just outside of Keswick. Rawnsley encouraged Beatrix Potter in her drawings and when back in London she made greeting cards of her pictures and started a book, which she eventually got published in 1902, it was ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’. Her third book 'Squirrel Nutkin' had background views of Catbells and Fawe Park featured in 'The tale of Benjamin Bunny'.

In 1903 Beatrix Potter bought a field in Near Sawry and in 1905 she bought Hill Top Farm at Sawry from the proceeds of her books. By that time she had sold 50,000 copies of Peter Rabbit. Hill Top was a small farm in Sawry and for the next 8 years she busied herself writing more books and visiting her farm. In 1909 she bought another farm opposite Hill Top, Castle Farm, which became her main base. Tom Kitten and Samuel Whiskers lived there. She also bought Tarn Hows, near Coniston, now fully owned by the National Trust.

Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top (owned by the National Trust thanks to Beatrix bequeathing it to them) is still as it was then and is now the most visited literary shrine in the Lake District.