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Sunday, 16 April 2017

Beatrix Potter

Helen Beatrix Potter was born on July 28, 1866 at 2 Bolton Gardens, West Brompton, Kensington, London. Her father Rupert had invested in the stock market and by the early 1890s was extremely wealthy.

Beatrix and her younger brother Walter Bertram (1872–1918) grew up with few friends outside their large extended family.

Rupert Potter, Beatrix Potter and Bertram Potter

Beatrix was educated by three able governesses, the last of whom was Annie Moore (née Carter), just three years older than Beatrix, who tutored Beatrix in German as well as acting as lady's companion.

Annie and Beatrix remained friends throughout their lives and Annie's eight children were the recipients of many of Potter's delightful picture letters. It was Annie who later suggested that these letters might make good children's books.

Potter at fifteen years with her springer spaniel, Spot

In September 1893, Beatrix Potter was on holiday at Eastwood in Dunkeld, Perthshire. In a letter to Annie's eldest son Noel who was often ill. Potter told a story of four little rabbits: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. The story was inspired by her own pet rabbit, Benjamin H. Bouncer.

In 1900, Potter revised her tale about the four little rabbits, and fashioned a dummy book of it. Unable to find a buyer for the work, she published it for family and friends at her own expense in December 1901.

Family friend Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley had great faith in Potter's tale, recast it in didactic verse, and made the rounds of the London publishing houses. Frederick Warne & Co and accepted the "bunny book" (as the firm called it) choosing the then new Hentschel three-color process to reproduce Potter's watercolors. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published on October 2, 1902, and was an immediate success. It has since been published in 17 languages.

First edition, 1902

Beatrix Potter was one of the first writers to realize merchandising power, producing her own Peter Rabbit doll, registered at the Patent Office, in 1903, making him the oldest licensed literary character in the world.

In 1905, Potter became unofficially engaged to her publisher Norman Warne. The engagement lasted just one month until Warne died of leukemia at age 37

Potter had used some of her income to buy Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey in the English Lake District near Windermere. as a holiday home for her and Warne. After Warne's death, Potter went ahead with its purchase as she'd fallen in love with the farm and its nearby village.

Hill Top Farm now owned by the National Trust. By Richerman  Wikipedia

Potter learned the techniques of fell farming and of raising livestock, including pigs, cows and chickens; the following year she added sheep.

In 1909, Potter moved to Castle Farm across the road from Hill Top Farm.

Beatrix Potter was 47 when she finally got married  to William Heelis, a solicitor who had handled the deals on her Lake District Castle Farm property.

Potter and Heelis were married on October 15 1913 at St Mary Abbots in Kensington, London.

Potter and William Heelis enjoyed a happy marriage of thirty years. 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.

Beatrix Potter died of complications from pneumonia and heart disease on December 22, 1943 at Castle Cottage, and her remains were cremated at Carleton Crematorium.


Beatrix first began to keep a diary at the age of 14. It was written in a code of her own devising which was a simple letter for letter substitution. The journal, decoded and transcribed by Leslie Linder in 1958, does not provide an intimate record of her personal life, but it is an invaluable source for understanding a vibrant part of British society in the late 19th century.

Beatrix Potter was also a renowned mycologist, but her discoveries went ignored because she was a woman.

In 1967, the mycologist W.P.K. Findlay included many of Potter's beautifully accurate fungus drawings in his Wayside & Woodland Fungi, thereby fulfilling her desire to one day have her fungus drawings published in a book.


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