Beatrix Potter is well known as a children’s author and illustrator but perhaps less well known is the fact that she was also a farmer ,land owner and for a number of years worked for the National Trust as a voluntary Land Agent . In this role in the 1930’s she helped to look after some of the National Trust property across the
, including farms , houses and woodlands much of which was either donated or sold to the Trust by Beatrix Potter herself. South Lakes
Even though she came from a wealthy family and was raised in a luxurious house in London with servants and a governess , she wasn’t frightened of getting her hands dirty and was very actively involved in the day to day decision making that was required to ensure that the Trust owned property was well looked after.
|Beatrix Potter the day before her marriage to William Heelis.|
I have recently had the opportunity to look through some of Beatrix Potters’( or more accurately Mrs Heelis as she was known after marrying in 1913) letters to Bruce Thompson The Trusts’ first Land Agent in the lakes. A few things leap out from the pages .
It is quite striking how things have little changed over the years, the challenges and issues that the South Lakes Rangers face today are identical to those that Beatrix Heelis and Bruce Thompson faced in the 1920’s and 30’s . In one letter dated Jan 4 1937, written from her home , Castle Cottage in Near Sawrey, she writes at some length advising Mr Thompson on the best type of fencing to use on a wood boundary that floods regularly ‘ It is usual to put round wire near flood water, because woven wire netting gets clogged with drift ‘ . She then goes on to extol the virtues of ‘Hercules’ netting over the cheaper ‘Wrylock ‘ co-incidentally we still use Rylock netting for most of our fencing jobs these days .
Yew Tree Farm in Coniston is a farm that Mrs Heelis had strong personal connections with and the challenges of finding a suitable new tenant are mentioned in one of the letters . She felt that the existing tenants had not made the most of the farm . ‘ Yew Tree as a farm has a bad name already ……..What it wants is a tenant who would concentrate on the visitor teas.’ Beatrix had helped to set up a tea room on the farm to help bring in extra income at a difficult time for farming. We as Rangers get involved with the selection of farm tenants from time to time as an organisation we , like Mrs Heelis , are always looking for people who will run a successful business , look after the land and who are comfortable with the high levels of access on Trust land, that we encourage.
In other letters she talks of installing benches at Tarn Hows , vandalism by mischievous local boys, woods where timber for fence posts and rails may be sourced from and writes quite disapprovingly about a new fence that has been erected at Holme Fell . All very familiar issues and decisions that we get involved in today.
Apart from the striking familiarity of the issues discussed , the letters also reveal something of the character of Beatrix Potter ( Mrs Heelis ). When asked about their relationship, Bruce Thompson wrote that he was quite scared of her , and didn’t look forward to their meetings . The letters show that she had strong opinions on things and was obviously very knowledgeable about farming and land management, I get the impression that she didn’t suffer fools gladly . I,m not sure how this fool would have enjoyed working with her !
National Trust Ranger ( South Lakes )