Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Hill Top

I loved reading when I was little. But for some reason my local library only had one Beatrix Potter book and that was The Tale of Ginger and Pickles. It's about a cat and a dog who run a shop but keep giving credit to their customers, so they go out of business. I'm sure it was a big favourite in George Osborne's house, but even at the age of five I knew capitalist propaganda when I saw it and I didn't like it. 

Maybe this is why I've never really had any major affection for Beatrix Potter. And when I discovered that her former home at Hill Top has no tea room or scones, I very nearly gave it a miss.


Hill Top

But thank God I didn't give it a miss, because it's now one of my favourite National Trust properties and I urge you all to go.

It's a relatively small and very understated place - it's a farmhouse, basically - but the minute I walked into it, I completely understood why she loved it so much. It has a really warm and cosy feel to it and it contains a whole treasure trove of objects that meant a lot to her.

Here's the background:

  • Beatrix Potter was born in London in 1866 
  • She was 16 when her family started holidaying in the Lake District
  • When she was 30, the Potters stayed near the village of Near Sawrey and Beatrix completely fell in love with the place
  • She got engaged to Norman Warne, her editor, when she was 39 but he died a month later
  • That same year, she bought Hill Top - a 34 acre working farm in Near Sawrey, using an inheritance and her royalties from her books
  • She continued to live in London, looking after her parents, but returned to Hill Top whenever she could
  • She wrote 13 of her books at Hill Top, including The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and my old nemesis, Ginger & Pickles
  • There are pictures from her books dotted all round the house, showing how the house and furniture appeared in her stories 
  • I didn't realise this at the time but the shop in the village is the very shop that appears in Ginger & Pickles!
  • She married a local solicitor, William Heelis, in 1913 and they moved down the road but she kept Hill Top
I'm ashamed to say that I had always assumed that Beatrix Potter was a little bit twee. In fact, she was way ahead of her time: 
  • She was a keen conservationist and worked closely with the National Trust to protect the Lake District from development
  • The founder of the Trust, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, became a friend of the Potters when they started holidaying in the Lakes
  • In 1930, she bought a 4000 acre estate to save it from development, giving the Trust more time to raise the money needed
  • Beatrix eventually owned 15 farms and pieces of land in the Lake District
  • She died in 1943, leaving everything to her husband - when he died all the farms, land, manuscripts, illustrations and drawings went to the Trust
  • The Trust headquarters were named Heelis in her honour

The ONLY bad thing about Hill Top is that they don't allow you to take photos inside. I was very sad about that, because the Entrance Hall is particularly lovely and her library was stunning, with four giant landscape paintings done by her brother, Bertram. Mind you, I am supremely bad at taking pictures so you're probably better off just going to see it all for yourself.

Lastly, I was delighted to meet a cat at Hill Top. Sadly, he wasn't wearing a jacket and he didn't appear to be running a shop. And he pointedly refused to pose for me. 


Cat at Hill Top

But never mind! Hill Top is absolutely marvellous and I highly, highly recommend it.

Hill Top: 5 out of 5
Scones: there weren't any, but I knew that
Cat not really playing ball with the whole Beatrix Potter thing: 0 out of 5

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