Beatrix Potter at Lingholm

Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter spent ten summer holidays at Lingholm over a twenty two year period, between 1885 and 1907, and also stayed at Fawe Park, the neighbouring estate in 1903.

 

Beatrix came from a wealthy Victorian family who lived in London. Her father Rupert Potter, a barrister by profession, was a keen photographer, naturalist and artist who enjoyed renting large country houses for the family’s holidays, with the summer holidays often lasting several months.

 

 

Beatrix on the east terrace at Lingholm with her brother Bertram and the family dog photographed by her father in 1898 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with kind permission from Frederick Warne & Co.

 

 

Although Beatrix is more commonly associated with Hill Top in Sawrey, the farmhouse she bought in 1905 where her later books were based, it was the landscape around Derwentwater that inspired her earlier books and Lingholm was her favourite and most frequently visited Lakeland holiday home. Arriving at Lingholm for the first time at the age of 19, Beatrix is said to have fallen in love with the area. She loved the lakeside setting of the estate, the woods filled with red squirrels, the flowers and trees and the dramatic fells surrounding the lake. It was during her time at Lingholm, and the surrounding area that she wrote some of her best known stories, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle are both closely associated with her time here, and the Lingholm Kitchen Garden was the original inspiration for Mr McGregor’s garden in The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The Tale of Benjamin Bunny was set next door at Fawe Park.

 

 

When staying at Lingholm, Beatrix used the draughty attic rooms as her studio and from a painting she did in 1898 entitled simply “Rain” we know which room she was using at the time. The view of the side of the old billiard room building rising up to a mist and rain obscured Skiddaw is virtually unchanged today. Today the room Beatrix used as an attic studio is a bedroom in our Skiddaw holiday apartment. It is known that Beatrix had a particular fondness for Lingholm and this can be borne out to some extent by the fact that she produced two paintings of the house (she rarely painted houses as nature interested her far more than buildings). Her second painting of Lingholm was of the main hall and stairway completed in 1904.

 

Rain. Drawing by Beatrix Potter at Lingholm, Keswick, August 1898 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with kind permission from Frederick Warne & Co.

 

Drawing of stairway and hall at Lingholm by Beatrix Potter, ca. 1904 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with kind permission from Frederick Warne & Co.

 

The same stairway today

 

The Tale Of Peter Rabbit

Mr McGregor’s Garden, which is the central theme running through The Tale of Peter Rabbit story, was a combination of several gardens that Beatrix knew and it probably had more than a bit of imagination added in as well, but in a letter to her publishers in 1942 she said the following about the origins of the garden;

 

“If the vegetable garden and wicket gate were anywhere it was at Lingholm near Keswick; but it would be vain to go and look for it there as a firm of landscape gardeners did away with it, and laid it out anew with paved walks etc.”

 

It is also entirely possible that two of the original illustrations in The Tale of Peter Rabbit were drawn at Lingholm, as in a letter to a friend in New Zealand in 1939, she confirmed that the famous panoramic view of Peter sitting upright in a wheelbarrow looking out onto a slightly sloping kitchen garden “was done in a garden at Keswick that was completely altered afterwards” and in a separate letter to her publishers in 1943 she said that “the fir tree and some woods background were in a garden near Keswick”.

 

 

Illustrations from The Tale of Peter Rabbit | © Frederick Warne & Co,. 1903, 2002 | Reproduced by permission of Frederick Warne & Co.

The origins of the Peter Rabbit story go back some years before the book was published. On the 4th of September 1893 Beatrix sent an eight page picture letter to Noel Moore, her former governess’s son, about four little rabbits named Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter who lived in a sandbank under a big fir tree. The picture letter of 1893 had the same basic outline as the book that was eventually published in 1901 and featured the dangerous Mr McGregor and his garden. Beatrix had by then enjoyed three holidays at Lingholm in 1885, 1887 and 1888, before the story letter had been written. At that time she had never stayed anywhere in the Keswick area except Lingholm, so by piecing together the letters and the timeline, it is certain that Lingholm played some part in the origins of the most popular rabbit story of all time.

 

Above: Sketch of the Lingholm Kitchen Garden by Beatrix Potter

 

© The National Trust, with kind permission from Frederick Warne & Co.

 

The first Peter Rabbit book was published privately by Beatrix and when the printers sent her the original coloured frontispiece for the book, it was sent to her at Lingholm.

 

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with kind permission from Frederick Warne & Co

 

Peter Rabbit was based on Beatrix’s own pet rabbit who she called Peter Piper. She painted Peter Piper, most probably whilst on holiday at Lingholm in 1899, as the painting is dated August 1899 when she was staying at Lingholm (her pets often travelled with her on holiday).

 

Peter Piper lying on his blue quilt by the fire, Lingholm August 1899

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with kind permission from Frederick Warne & Co

The Tale Of Squirrel Nutkin

 

The Lingholm woods and lakeshore were the setting for The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, which Beatrix wrote and illustrated whilst staying at the house in 1901. The story, which was originally written as a picture – letter, was a follow up to one she had written at Lingholm four years earlier in 1897 that she sent to Noel Moore, the eldest son of her former governess, about some squirrels who set sail using their tails as sails.

 

She expanded on the story and sent a longer version in a home-made story book to Noel’s sister Norah in 1901. The inside front page of the storybook is headed “Lingholme, Keswick, Sept 25th 01” and the book was finally published in 1903, the original storybook is held in the V & A archives.

 

Inside front page from the 1901 storybook

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with kind permission from Frederick Warne & Co.

 

The Squirrel Nutkin illustrations were all drawn by Beatrix while she was staying at Lingholm and are all set in the Lingholm woods, or the nearby shoreline. We still have a population of Red Squirrels at Lingholm and are actively working on increasing their numbers with help from the National Trust. The story centres around a group of squirrels who sail across to Owl Island to seek permission from Old Brown, the owl to gather nuts on his island. All the squirrels are very polite except one naughty squirrel called Nutkin who is very rude to the owl and ends up annoying Old Brown so much that he ends up in a struggle with the owl and loses his tail.

 

Squirrels sailing to Owl Island on rafts

Squirrels hoisting down sacks of nuts at lake side

 

The locations illustrated in the book are all immediately recognisable today, the Lingholm shoreline and Derwent Bay next door are virtually unchanged from 1901 and Owl Island is in real life St. Herbert’s Island, which over the years was the subject of many drawings, photographs and paintings done by Beatrix, her brother and father.

 

An illustration from 1903 Derwentwater sketchbook showing St Herberts (Owl) Island.

© The National Trust, with kind permission from Frederick Warne & Co.

The Tale Of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle 

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, one of Beatrix Potter’s best known stories, was published in 1905. The central character was based on her pet hedgehog that, like her rabbits, often travelled with her on holidays.

 

The setting for the story is the nearby Newlands Valley and Littletown, which Beatrix regularly visited while staying at Lingholm. The little girl called Lucie in the story is based on Lucie Carr – who was the daughter of the Reverend Carr, the vicar of Newlands, who was friendly with the Potters having being introduced by Canon Rawnsley.

 

Beatrix was greatly taken by the young blonde haired Lucie and the book is dedicated to her on the inside front cover. The storyline of Lucie losing her pocket handkerchiefs and pinnie is closely linked to an event that occurred at Lingholm, when in August 1904 the Carr family came for tea at Lingholm and Lucie, aged around 4 and dressed in her best frock, left her party gloves behind.

 

Beatrix wrote Lucie a picture letter and sent back the child’s gloves. The similarities with the story are striking and of course after getting her handkerchiefs back washed and ironed. Lucie then took tea with Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.

 

The earliest known manuscript for Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle actually dates back to September 1901 and has written on the title page “Made at Lingholm, Sept 01, told to Cousin Stephanie at Melford, Nov 01”.

 

In the book, Lucie lived at Littletown but Beatrix moved the real -life house she illustrated, which was Skelgill farm which is situated just a bit further down the valley. At the time Skelgill farm was part of the Lingholm Estate.

 

If you visit the valley today you can still see Lucie’s house, the bridleway she walked on which leads to Skelgill Farm, Littletown and the head of the Newlands Valley, and they are virtually unchanged from Beatrix’s illustrations.

 

(Left) An illustration from the Derwentwater sketchbook of a mine door in the side of Catbells, an almost identical illustration is used in the book as the door for Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s house.

(Right) View up the Newlands Valley from the Derwentwater sketch book dated 15th Sept 1903 which was used as a base for one of the books illustrations

© The National Trust, with kind permission from Frederick Warne & Co.

llustration sources:

Illustrations from The Tale of Peter Rabbit | © Frederick Warne & Co,. 1902, 2002 | Reproduced by permission of Frederick Warne & Co.

Illustrations from The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin | © Frederick Warne & Co,. 1903, 2002 | Reproduced by permission of Frederick Warne & Co.

Illustrations from The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle | © Frederick Warne & Co,. 1903, 2002 | Reproduced by permission of Frederick Warne & Co.

 


 

Acknowledgements

Beatrix Potter 1866-1943 THE ARTIST AND HER WORLD published by F.Warne & Co and the National Trust, written by Judy Taylor, Joyce Irene Whalley, Anne Stevenson Hobbs and Elizabeth M Battrick.

Beatrix Potter, THE V & A COLLECTION published by the Victoria and Albert Museum and Frederick Warne and compiled by Anne Stevenson Hobbs and Joyce Irene Whalley.