Beatrix Potter

28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943


Beatrix Potter

(National Portrait Gallery /

Artist, story-teller, botanist, farmer, and conservationist. There is so much more to Beatrix Potter than her tales about Peter Rabbit and all of his friends. Her stories have sold in the millions around the world, and have been adapted into films, plays, and TV cartoons, whilst toy versions of her creations have been played with by generations of children.

Yet here in the Lake District she is more widely known as the lady who helped to safeguard the Herdwick sheep breed and preserved thousands of acres of land to be enjoyed by the public. Without her work in conservation, the Lake District may have looked very different today.


Helen Beatrix Potter was born in London in July 1866, daughter of Rupert William Potter, a barrister, and Helen Leech. With both parents having a keen interest in the countryside, Potter and her brother Walter spent most summers during their childhood in Scotland, where they explored the wildlife and spent hours drawing the animals they found. When Potter was sixteen, the family took their first holiday in the Lake District at Wray Castle, and thus began Potter’s love affair with the spectacular Cumbrian landscape.

Potter developed a keen interest in Botany, and created an extensive collection of drawings of various plants and fungi during her early 20s. It was during this time that along with her brother, she began to illustrate Christmas cards with pictures of animals in order to earn some extra money. In addition, whilst on holiday in the Lake District, she would often send letters back home to younger relatives, illustrated with the same whimsical creatures that would later play a starring role in her iconic children’s tales. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published in 1902 and immediately became a bestseller.

After her first fiancé, Norman Warne, passed away from leukaemia in 1905, Potter retreated to the Lake District where she purchased Hill Top Farm using the proceeds from the sales of her books. Here she met solicitor William Heelis, who she married in 1913. Together the pair built up a large collection of farms. When she died in 1943 Beatrix Potter left 4,000 acres of Lake District farmland to the National Trust.


Beatrix Potter is, of course, most famous for her collection of 23 tales. Starting with The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Potter created a series of loveable characters who are recognised the world over. Over 45 million copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit have been sold, whilst Peter Rabbit merchandise has adorned millions of children’s bedrooms.

Links to the Lake District

After holidaying at Wray Castle in the Lake District, Potter became enthralled with the area, and later chose to set up home at Hill Top Farm. Potter was not one to leave the hard work to others, and was very much hands on in managing her farm, and the subsequent farms she purchased. She learnt about sheep rearing and was struck by the local breed, the Herdwick. Her work in establishing Herdwick flocks across Cumbria led to her widely being accredited as saving the breed from extinction.

Potter was inspired by her friend, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, and went to great efforts to preserve and restore the farms she purchased. Upon her death in 1943, she bequeathed 4,000 acres of land in the Lake District to the National Trust, and much of that is open to the public to visit today.

Sites of Interest

Today there are a number of attractions open to the public that are either linked to, or celebrate the life of, Beatrix Potter. Hill Top Farm – her original Lake District home – is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cumbria, and has been left just as it was when Potter lived there. A short drive away in Hawkshead, you can visit William Heelis’ office, which is now home to the Beatrix Potter Gallery.

Wray Castle, Potter’s first Lake District holiday accommodation, is now filled with family friendly rooms where children can play as the young Potter and her brother may have once done. For a truly immersive experience, you can even stay at one of Potter’s old farmhouses at Yew Tree Farm in Coniston, which still retains some of her furniture.

If you are enamoured with her whimsical tales, or have young children, then a visit to The World of Beatrix Potter at Bowness on Windermere is a must. The characters are brought to life in delightful displays that capture the magic of Potter’s world.