Few would not have heard of Beatrix Potter and if you have not, then you would surely recognise this little character – Peter Rabbit. Beatrix was a writer, illustrator and conservationist best known for her children’s books featuring anthropomorphised animals (those given human traits). Beatrix’s great love of the countryside grew from holidays taken in Scotland and the Lake District where her study of the flora and fauna was turned into acclaimed watercolours. In particular the closely observed paintings of fungi led to her being highly respected in the field of mycology.
After self-publishing The Tale Of Peter Rabbit, she went on to write another twenty two in the series including two books of nursery rhymes, as well as other children’s books.
Whilst many could recall the Tales of Tom Kitten, The Tailor Of Gloucester and Jemima Puddleduck, I wonder in whose memory The story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit survives. It was not a popular story. Intended for very young children, and lacking Peter’s cuteness, it was felt to be over moralistic. Similarly, the books original format of a folded paper strip tied with a ribbon was considered unsuitable and to reflect her lack of experience with very young children. Growing up in a middle class household, she had been isolated from other children and educated by a series of governesses.
When I was expecting my first son I bought several of the books. By his third birthday his favourite was Appley Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes* which I’d read every night to him and even today, nearly 40 years on, I can recite several of the rhymes. I would hazard a guess that he could not!
My younger son didn’t develop an interest in the stories, but Daughter and I both recall especially enjoying Pigling Bland. This, however, was not a favourite of the author who author wrote to a young fan apologising that it was, “not up to scratch”! Some of the language used in the books is now somewhat dated and parents have long had to substitute their own words when reading the stories aloud (a risky business for as every parent knows, children recall exactly the words used last time the story was told)!
So loved are Beatrix’s animals, they’ve even appeared on a set of postage stamps
and I still have some of the items I bought for my baby son. You might be surprised to know that all three of these are still in daily use. From time to time I use the plate when enjoying a slice of cake!
Beatrix bought several properties in her beloved Lake District and on her death in 1943 left her estate of fourteen farms and 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust, and is credited with preserving a great deal of the land which now forms the lake District National Park.
One of those properties was Lindeth Howe Country House, now a 35 bedroomed hotel steeped in grandeur and history. Built in 1879 for a local mill owner, this ornate Queen Anne style house with its wide white painted frontage and timbered gables stands in 28 acres of abundant woodland. It was here that the young Beatrix drew the illustrations for Pigling Bland and so completely did she fall in love with the house, that in adulthood she bought it for her mother. It was here, overlooking Lake Windermere, that some years ago I enjoyed my first formal afternoon tea. And very delicious it was!