13 February 2011

Visiting Beatrix Potter’s house at Hill Top

Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter bought Hill Top farm in 1905 with royalties from her first children’s books, written at her parent’s home in London and inspired by her visits to the Lake District.  She wrote many of her famous children's stories in this 17th century stone farmhouse and her books are illustrated with pictures based on the house and garden. When she died in 1943, Beatrix Potter left her property to the National Trust.  This included over four thousand acres of land, cottages, and fifteen farms.

Time capsule

I visited Hill Top on a sunny day in September last year, just as the tourist season was coming to an end.  The National Trust guides are passionate about the details of her life and work. The guide explained that one of the conditions Beatrix insisted on with Hill Top farm was that everything should be left as it was when she lived there. 

Her house has become a fascinating ‘time capsule’, as since it was opened to visitors in 1946, the National Trust have carefully kept to the agreement.  This even includes exactly matching the colour and material of any furnishings, such as the curtains, when they have to be replaced.   

Beatrix Potter’s ‘writing house’
Hill Top Farm today
The first thing that strikes any visitor familiar with the work of Beatrix Potter is that the garden is almost exactly as she illustrated in her books, with a green watering can and one brown rabbit nibbling at the grass. Entering the farmhouse you find yourself in a surprisingly large and fairly dark room, with a big range in the fireplace.  The guide explained that Hill Top was Beatrix Potter’s ‘writing house’ and so didn’t really need much of a kitchen.  She owned several houses in the area and would rarely stay overnight at the farmhouse.

Up some creaking wooden stairs were several bedrooms, the first of which was set up as her writing room. A small wooden writing desk faced the window with views out over the garden and on it were some letters to her publisher. They were written in Beatrix Potter's neat handwriting and looked real, not photocopies. I was told that the National Trust go to a lot of trouble to make them look as genuine as possible.

Beatrix Potter’s bedroom

Although Beatrix Potter didn’t often sleep at Hill Top she did have a bedroom, which has been kept as if she had recently been there. I was fascinated by the small details of Beatrix Potter’s life, such as her rings on the dresser that were left as if she had just taken them off  - she must have had very small fingers, as they were tiny.

The old stone farmhouse had thick walls and in her bedroom a window seat had been made so that she could sit and look out over her garden.  When I visited, a young woman was sat in the window seat with her daughter, reading aloud  from The Tale of Peter Rabbit, one of  Beatrix’s children’s stories.  Beatrix Potter would have approved. Very much indeed.        

Postscript: Miss Potter

The surprisingly moving 2006 film ‘Miss Potter’, starring Renée Zellweger in the title role with Ewan McGregor as her publisher, was not actually made at Hill Top but at another property she owned close by. In the script for Miss Potter, her Mother asks ’What I don't understand, Beatrix, is how you're going to pay for this farm?  Beatrix Potter replies ‘I'm a writer, Mother. People buy my work.’

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. I am an admirer of Potter, of who she was and her struggle for all of us to be heard. Thanks again. Hoping I will visit some day. Wonderful preview.

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  2. What a wonderful description of a place I am anxious to visit one day. I am a B. Potter fan and your article has me even more determined to visit. Thank you.

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  3. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. I too am a Beatrix Potter fan (loved the film) and your description of Hill Top Farm has made me want to visit post-haste!

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    1. Thanks Ann - it makes a great day out and you should also visit Ruskin's house at Brantwood nearby

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  4. Lovely descriptions of Hill Top. I visited some years ago, but it doesn't sound to have changed much, if at all. I remember there were lots of extremely excited Japanese tourists going round at the same time as us, and that stopped it being as peaceful as we might have hoped!

    I did visit Brantwood once, but felt very strange while I was in there - a dark, gloomy feeling that I hadn't expected at all and that lifted as soon as I left. Bit spooky!

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    1. It's all about timing - you need to visit Hill Top after the tourists have all gone. I rowed across Coniston to Brantwood again this summer and I am sure you can feel Ruskin's presence there!

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