Most people know Beatrix Potter, or Miss Potter, from the film of that name, for her creation of Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck, Mr. MacGreggor, and all of their friends in her “little books.” Few of her readers may be aware of her involvement with Herdwick sheep and her life as Beatrix Heelis, or Mrs. Heelis, in the Lake District of England from her late forties to the end of her life.
It is this second Beatrix with whom I can relate most at this time of my life. She married at age forty-seven, just one year younger than I am today. In her marriage, quite the opposite of what I would have assumed, Beatrix attained a level of freedom and independence she was not able to experience as the spinster daughter of aging parents under the Victorian customs of the day. Even in her mid-forties, she had to struggle to get her parents’ permission to marry.
And yet without the creative endeavors of her sheltered youth and the publication of the Peter Rabbit books, Miss Potter would have been known solely as Mrs. William Heelis, even her first name most likely forgotten by history. Many of the Victorian knitting books I’ve seen have the authors’ names listed merely as Miss X, Mrs. Y, or even simply, “A Lady.”
In her second life, Beatrix Heelis became a wife, a farmer, and a conservationist. The income from her books created her doorway into this second life, enabling her to buy land and livestock, to hire farm managers, and even to meet her eventual husband, who was her real estate attorney.
This second Beatrix is who I will write about in my articles. But for now I will leave you with a few photos and a challenge to do a quick google search to learn more if you can’t wait for my writings to be published. Because of her work as a conservationist, Beatrix Potter is well known all over the Lake District and wherever you go, if you visit the area, you will learn about her life and work and have the opportunity to visit many of the fourteen farms she bought and later donated to the National Trust for the preservation of the English countryside, Herdwick sheep, and the continuation of the small-farmers’ way of life in this particular corner of the world.
A Herdwick sheep at Woolfest. They are born black, and their fleece lightens each year.
Beans growing in the garden at Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm house.
The front of Hill Top house seen from the garden.
Products made from Herdwick wool.
Herdie the Herdwick souvenirs available at many shops in the Lake District.