Beatrix Potter - writer, illustrator and founder of the Lake District National Park

Author & Artist

Beatrix Potter - writer, illustrator and founder of the Lake District National Park

Helen Beatrix Potter was an English writer, illustrator, farmer and conservationist; she was best known for her children's books featuring animals, such as "The Tale of Peter Rabbit".

Born into an upper-middle-class household in 1866, Beatrix Potter was educated by governesses and grew up isolated from other children apart from her younger brother. Her parents were artistic and were also interested in wildlife and the countryside. The children had many pets and frequently sketched them.

Beatrix's last governess, Annie Carter Moore, was only three years older than she was. They remained friends for life, and Beatrix frequently sent illustrated letters to Annie and her children. In September 1893, Potter was on holiday in Scotland. She had run out of things to say to Noel, Annie's eldest son, and so she told him a story about "four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter". It became one of the most famous children's letters ever written and the basis of Potter's future career as a writer-artist-storyteller.

In 1900, Potter revised her tale about the four little rabbits, and fashioned a dummy book of it. Though it was initially rejected by publishers Frederick Warne & Co., they changed their minds and published The Tale of Peter Rabbit on 2nd October 1902. The book was an immediate success. It was followed the next year by The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester, which had also first been written as picture letters to the Moore children. Working with Norman Warne as her editor, Potter published two or three little books each year: 23 books in all.

In 1905, Norman Warne proposed marriage and was accepted by Beatrix, to the dismay of her parents who regarded him as insufficiently upper class. However, he died of a sudden illness before the marriage could take place.

Beatrix had bought a farm in the Lake District with the view to using it as a marital holiday home. After Warne's death, she learnt to farm and eventually made it her main home, whilst continuing to write books for her publishers. She married solicitor William Heelis in 1912.

Soon after acquiring her farm, Beatrix Potter became keenly interested in the breeding and raising of Herdwick sheep, the indigenous fell sheep. She became one of the major Herdwick sheep farmers in the county. She also purchased and restored farm houses and land, with a view to preserving the beauty and heritage of the Lake District.

When Beatrix Potter died in 1943, she left nearly all her property, as well as much of her artwork, to the National Trust, including over 4,000 acres 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 land now included in the Lake District National Park and the continuation of fell farming.

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