Time Capsule of Woman’s Life

Small house with a timed entry system in place to avoid overcrowding and to protect fragile interior. It can get very busy and visitors may sometimes have to wait to enter the house

By Seema Anand Chopra

With school time memories of reading the delightful book Tale of Peter Rabbit resonating in my mind, we headed for its writer Beatrix Potter’s Hill top home in the spectacular Lake District of England hoping to discover the magic of all her 23 Tales – enchanting children’s stories. Author, illustrator, scientist, businesswoman and conservationist – Beatrix Potter was an extra ordinary woman. We undertook a short walk from the car park to find a narrow path towards the Hill top house, quite similar to the Indian Hill stations.

WONDER WOMAN

Walking down the road i recalled her interesting life. Born in July 1866, she loved sketching and at the age of 24 Beatrix sold some Rabbit pictures for Christmas cards, decided to write a children’s book about that Rabbit and history was created, for the legendary naughty lovable Peter Rabbit was born! Every publisher rejected it but she printed 250 copies privately and sold each of them. By 1902 Warne publisher picked it up and sold 8000 copies followed by printing of 6 of Beatrix’s books. Hollywood actress Renee Zellwegger immortalized her with the portrayal of Beatrix in ‘Miss Potter’.

THE HILL TOP HOME

The summer sun was up shining in all its glory as we reached the 17th century house with very typical Lakeland architecture- the slate roof and stone walls. In 1905 when Beatrix bought the house, it was a crucial step for a single woman in the Victorian era. It brought about a dramatic change in her lackluster life with authoritarian parents as she produced her best work here – 13 stories creating human like characters from Rabbits, Mice, Squirrels and Hedgehogs…. She used the setting of the Hill top house, its garden, paths and the front gate in illustrations of her stories so it was simple for us to connect the Home to the Nursery classics by Beatrix.

The Entrance cum Par lour of the home had welcoming warmth to it. The huge Range on our right was a part of Beatrix’s illustrations in her stories but this is an identical one, so is the Wallpaper – an exact replica of the original. Several 17th century exhibits that we saw were time and again part of her story illustrations – the Clock, the Oak press cupboard and the Chippendale style chairs. The 19th century Dresser is attributed in the Tale of Samuel Whiskers and a copy of the book was displayed on it.

Beatrix set up the Chimney in the Parlour around which few 18th and 19th century porcelain was displayed. It appeared like a much used movie set and we spotted the 1902 Teapot as character Ribby’s from the Tale of the Pie and the Patty –Pan!

I felt as if i was part of a Beatrix Potter story as i climbed up the 18th century Staircase and Landing to cross the walnut long case clock and saw Beatrix’s sportswear jacket spread on the chair back exactly as she often did during her lifetime! I recollected reading about the landing and the staircase in Potter’s books. We were told that the carpets were woven to match those in The Tale of Samuel Whiskers.

Next we stepped into the ‘Doll room look’ Beatrix’s Bedroom with an entire wood four poster bed with a beautifully carved high back – truly a masterpiece. Black and white Family photos were decorated over the Fireplace Mantel shelf. I had read earlier that Beatrix used these ‘Upstairs rooms’ for the plot of one of her stories- When Peter Rabbit’s red spotted handkerchief and Doll’s house food were stolen.

The uniqueness of the house is that its character has been preserved, something that Beatrix loved about it. Even though some furniture has been moved to accommodate smooth visitors flow and few LED- lights have been added…Mostly its been over 70 years that Beatrix herself made her last changes that she enjoyed doing!

While leaving the house we were told that there are over 1433 objects in the house and over 2200 works on paper that were either displayed here or in the Gallery nearby. Some objects were almost 400 years old like antique furniture and old paintings some of which we had just seen. Others were added by Beatrix over the years that she lived here on and off, totaling to about 8 years.

Like the large Iron key of the Hill top house that hangs on the Door till today which finds mention in the story –‘The Fairy Caravan’ as ‘ it cannot be lifted’. More being – the little toy chicken, the miniature dustpan and an array of photos, original artwork, furniture and personal belongings.

We were further informed that to mark the 150th Birth anniversary celebrations of Beatrix Potter in 2017, the material related to the famous lovable character of mischievous Peter Rabbit would be travelling to Japan for a 7 venues Exhibitions. These include 44 black ink drawings created by Beatrix for the first private edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit!

THE SLOPING GARDEN

The garden outside was busy as it was a beautiful summer day with a jumbled line up of coloured flowers and vegetables. Furthermore we looked out for the ancient Apple tree in the paddock drops. The sloping garden outside reminded me of The Tale of Tom Kitten and The Tale of Pigling Bland with its rows of vegetables on one side and an assortment of conventional English flowers on the other.

Before leaving the Hill top house it was imperative to visit its Gift Shop to be lost in the World of Peter Rabbit. The books, the toys, the pens, the magnets….endearing Peter rabbit was every where alongwith the other characters immortalised by Beatrix through her books, to choose from as a souvenir to cherish the memory of our visit!

VILLAGES NEAR SAWREY

While going back to the car park we decided to explore the 2 scenic villages that are eminent for locations and buildings associated with Beatrix Potter stories as she lived in the Hill Top Farm in Near- Sawrey. We walked past the Tom Kitten’s Gate from the Tale of Tom Kitten, The Old Post Office (The Tale of The Pie and The Patty- Pan), Tower Bank Arms building (The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck) The Post Box(Peter Rabbit’s Almanac), Anvil cottage( The Tale of Samuel Whiskers) and the ‘Ginger and Pickles Shop’( The Tale of Ginger and Pickles)opposite he former; mentioned in Beatrix’s stories.

As we drove back we thought of the popularity of the Beatrix Potter Hill top house that has 100,000 visitors each year! Additionally, the majority of her stories is still in print, are translated and published in several languages!