1866-1943 - Beatrix Potter


Hill Top, in the quiet village of Near Sawrey in Cumbria, is a typical 17th century Lakeland farmhouse, with rubble walls, slate roof and a pretty cottage garden. Beatrix Potter came to the village in the summer of 1896 with her parents, with whom she lived in London. A few years later she was able to buy Hill Top from the royalties on her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Many scenes and details in her books are taken from the cottage and its environs. In later life she acquired a lot of land and property in the Lake District, which she bequeathed to the National Trust so it could be preserved for the nation. Does it enhance our enjoyment of a book to know that it is set in a 'real' place which we can actually visit?

It is almost impossible to separate Hill Top from its owner. The property is an old farmhouse in a particularly beautiful part of the Lake District, which Beatrix Potter called 'as nearly perfect a place as I ever lived in, and such nice old-fashioned people'. The house's creaking stairs and cobwebby nooks and crannies offer the perfect setting for the kind of animal stories that its owner wrote and illustrated. But as well as providing a ready supply of source material, seen most clearly in Tom Kitten, Jemima Puddle-Duck and Samuel Whiskers, or the Roly-Poly Pudding, Hill Top was also a symbol of the first flowering of her independence from her parents and their London home. Even by Victorian standards, her upbringing had been especially strict, and her ageing parents even forbade her from marrying her publisher because he was 'in trade'. Having bought Hill Top in 1905, her visits became longer and longer, as she began to discover that here - in her own home and in her own company - she could at last find the happiness that had eluded her in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the family home. After she married her solicitor in 1913 - she was then 47 - they moved only a very short distance away, to a long, low cottage on the other side of the road. She gradually gave up writing, and concentrated her energies on rearing sheep, but could not bring herself to dispose of Hill Top. After her death in 1943 it passed to the National Trust, to whom she also bequeathed over 4,000 acres of Lakeland countryside and a number of other properties in the area. She made the proviso that it should not be altered, but kept exactly as she had left it. With her homely pots and oak furniture, the beams and panels and dark little corners, it is as though she has merely gone out for a short while to visit a neighbour in the village, and will return presently. In the meantime, a group of small creatures have the house to themselves...

1840-1928 - Thomas Hardy

1885-1930 - D H Lawrence