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Hill Top Home of Beatrix Potter

Ref: BP1905

In the summer of 1905 Beatrix Potter, bought Hill Top, a working farm in the Village of Near Sawrey in the Lake District of England.
Beatrix was approaching forty years old and had just published her sixth book, The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle. Sadly, she was suffering a dreadful grief following the death of her fiancé, Norman Warne, who had died swiftly from pernicious anaemia. Their engagement had been short and against her parents' wishes.
Beatrix Potter's love of the Lake District had been spawned from family holidays when she was a teenager. When she was thirty, the family rented a large house, Lakefield on the edge of Sawrey. This house, with its magnificent garden, looked out over Esthwaite Water to the hills of Coniston beyond. Behind the house was a bustling farm with sheep, cows and pigs.
When the holidays were over and it was time to return to London, Beatrix had fallen in love with it all, "It is as nearly perfect a little place as I ever lived in, and such nice old fashioned people in the village." Beatrix resolved that one day, somehow, part of this beautiful countryside would belong to her.
The sale of Hill Top was completed on November 1905, and so began her deep interest in farming and concern for the preservation and care of the land. She appointed John Cannon as farm manager and as the Cannons had two children there was at first no room for her to stay at Hill Top. This changed when Beatrix added a small wing to the house.
The wing completed she turned her attention to the farm making plans with John Cannon to purchase new stock. Within two years Hill Top Farm had ten cows, fourteen pigs and some ducks and hens, and over 30 Herdwick sheep, a breed native to the Lake District with wool prized for its hard wearing qualities. With the sheep came the sheepdogs and Beatrix's first collie was called Kep..
The enthusiasm for the Farm was an ideal way to come to terms with her fiancé's death. As well as putting the house in order she was producing new books, The Tale of Jeremy Fisher (1906) was set on Esthwaite Water and the Tale of Tom Kitten (1907) clearly takes place in the house and garden of Hill Top. The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck (1908) was based on a real straying duck from Hill Top with Mrs Cannon and her children appearing in the opening pictures, and the whole book full of the farm, village and surrounding country. Beatrix used the farmhouse for the setting of The Tale of Samuel Whiskers (1908) choosing the invasive rats as her main character.
As land became available Beatrix added to her property, in May 1909 she bought a second farm in Sawrey, Castle Farm with its fields conveniently adjoining her Hill Top land.
In all her property dealings she used a firm of local solicitors, WH Heelis and Son of Ambleside and Hawkeshead. She was looked after there by one of the Partners, William Heelis. They became close and William asked her to marry him. It took Beatrix a year to persuade her parents to agree to this, but on 14th October 1913 she and Willie were married in London.
The Heelies choose Castle Cottage as their home, choosing to keep Hill Top just as it was and using it as a studio and office.
Beatrix Potter died in December 1943 at the age of 77. Beatrix left everything in her will to Willie for his lifetime, stipulating that after his death all their property should go to the National Trust. This was over 4000 acres of land and numerous cottages and farms. She instructed that this was to be let at moderate rates and the sheep on the fell farms should be Herdwick's.
Hill Top was not to be let to anyone and all belongings and furnishings should be left in their present condition. Beatrix made a detailed list of where each item in the cottage should stand.
The National Trust opened Hill Top to the public in 1946.