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Monday, June 8, 2015

BEATRIX POTTER -- A LIFE IN NATURE





Country life



Hill Top, Near Sawrey – Potter's former home, now owned by the National Trust and preserved as it was when she lived and wrote her stories there.

The tenant farmer John Cannon and his family agreed to stay on to manage the farm for her while she made physical improvements and learned the techniques of fell farming and of raising livestock, including pigs, cows and chickens; the following year she added sheep. Realising she needed to protect her boundaries, she sought advice from W.H. Heelis & Son, a local firm of solicitors with offices in nearby Hawkshead. With William Heelis acting for her she bought contiguous pasture, and in 1909 the 20 acres (81,000 m2) Castle Farm across the road from Hill Top Farm. She visited Hill Top at every opportunity, and her books written during this period (such as The Tale of Ginger and Pickles, about the local shop in Near Sawrey andThe Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse, a wood mouse) reflect her increasing participation in village life and her delight in country living.


Owning and managing these working farms required routine collaboration with the widely respected William Heelis. By the summer of 1912 Heelis had proposed marriage and Beatrix had accepted; although she did not immediately tell her parents, who once again disapproved because Heelis was only a country solicitor. Potter and Heelis were married on 15 October 1913 in London at St Mary Abbots in Kensington. The couple moved immediately to Near Sawrey, residing at Castle Cottage, the renovated farm house on Castle Farm. Hill Top remained a working farm but was now remodelled to allow for the tenant family and Potter's private studio and workshop. At last her own woman, Potter settled into the partnerships that shaped the rest of her life: her country solicitor husband and his large family, her farms, the Sawrey community and the predictable rounds of country life. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and The Tale of Tom Kitten are representative of Hill Top Farm and of her farming life, and reflect her happiness with her country life.

After Rupert Potter died in 1914, Potter, now a wealthy woman, found[clarification needed] Lindeth Howe, a large house in nearby Windermere where her mother lived until her death in 1931 at the age of 93. Potter continued to write stories for Frederick Warne & Co and fully participated in country life. She established a Nursing Trust for local villages, and served on various committees and councils responsible for footpaths and other rural issues.


Sheep farming


Beatrix Potter Heelis became keenly interested in the breeding and raising of Herdwick sheep, the indigenous fell sheep, soon after acquiring Hill Top Farm. In 1923 she bought a former deer park and vast sheep farm in the Troutbeck Valley called Troutbeck Park Farm, restoring its land with thousands of Herdwick sheep. This established her as one of the major Herdwick sheep farmers in the area. She was admired by her shepherds and farm managers for her willingness to experiment with the latest biological remedies for the common diseases of sheep, and for her employment of the best shepherds, sheep breeders, and farm managers.

By the late 1920s Potter and her Hill Top farm manager Tom Storey had made a name for their prize-winning Herdwick flock, for which she won many prizes at the local agricultural shows, where she was also often asked to serve as a judge. In 1942 she was named President-elect of The Herdwick Sheepbreeders’ Association, the first time a woman had ever been elected to that office, but died before taking office.

Lake District conservation


Potter had been a disciple of the land conservation and preservation ideals of her long-time friend and mentor, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, the first secretary and founding member of theNational Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. She supported the efforts of the National Trust to preserve not just the places of extraordinary beauty but also those heads of valleys and low grazing lands that would be irreparably ruined by development. She was also an authority on the traditional Lakeland crafts, period furniture and stonework. She restored and preserved the farms that she bought or managed, making sure that each farm house had in it a piece of antique Lakeland furniture. Potter was interested in preserving not only the Herdwick sheep, but also the way of life of fell farming. In 1930 the Heelises became partners with the National Trust in buying and managing the fell farms included in the large Monk Coniston Estate. The estate was composed of many farms spread over a wide area of north-western Lancashire, including the famously beautiful Tarn Hows. Potter was the de facto estate manager for the Trust for seven years until the National Trust could afford to buy most of the property back from her. Her stewardship of these farms earned her wide regard, but she was not without her critics, not the least of which were her contemporaries who felt she used her wealth and the position of her husband to acquire properties in advance of their being made public. She was notable in observing the problems of afforestation, preserving the intake grazing lands, and husbanding the quarries and timber on these farms. All her farms were stocked with Herdwick sheep and frequently with Galloway cattle.


Lake District



Later life


Potter continued to write stories and to draw, although mostly for her own pleasure. Her books in the late 1920s included the semi-autobiographicalThe Fairy Caravan, a fanciful tale set in her beloved Troutbeck fells. It was published only in the US during Potter's lifetime, and not until 1952 in the UK. Sister Anne, Potter's version of the story of Bluebeard, was written especially for her American readers, but illustrated by Katharine Sturges. A final folktale, Wag by Wall, was published posthumously by The Horn Book in 1944. Potter was a generous patron of the Girl Guides, whose troops she allowed to make their summer encampments on her lands and whose company she enjoyed as an older woman.

Potter and William Heelis enjoyed a happy marriage of thirty years, continuing their farming and preservation efforts throughout the hard days of theSecond World War. Although they were childless, Potter played an important role in William’s large family, particularly enjoying her relationship with several nieces whom she helped educate and giving comfort and aid to her husband’s brothers and sisters.

Potter died of complications from pneumonia and heart disease on 22 December 1943 at Castle Cottage and her remains were cremated at Carleton Crematorium. She left nearly all her property to the National Trust, including over 4,000 acres (16 km2) of land, sixteen farms, cottages and herds of cattle and Herdwick sheep. Hers was the largest gift at that time to the National Trust and it enabled the preservation of the lands now included in the Lake District National Park and the continuation of fell farming. The central office of the National Trust inSwindon was named "Heelis" in 2005 in her memory. William Heelis continued his stewardship of their properties and of her literary and artistic work for the eighteen months he survived her. When he died in August 1945 he left the remainder to the National Trust.

Legacies

Goody and Mrs. Hackee, illustration to The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes, 1911

Potter left almost all the original illustrations for her books to the National Trust. The copyright to her stories and merchandise was then given to her publisher Frederick Warne & Co, now a division of the Penguin Group. On 1 January 2014, the copyright expired in the UK and other countries with a 70-years-after-death limit. Hill Top Farm was opened to the public by the National Trust in 1946; her artwork was displayed there until 1985 when it was moved to William Heelis’s former law offices in Hawkshead, also owned by the National Trust as the Beatrix Potter Gallery.

Potter gave her folios of mycological drawings to the Armitt Library and Museum in Ambleside before her death. The Tale of Peter Rabbit is owned by Frederick Warne and Company, The Tailor of Gloucester by the Tate Gallery and The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies by the British Museum.

The largest public collection of her letters and drawings is the Leslie Linder Bequest and Leslie Linder Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In the United States, the largest public collections are those in the Special Collections of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Lloyd Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University.

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