You have perhaps visited the charming Lakeland home of the famous author Beatrix Potter. The cottage attracts thousands of visitors every year. But why is it so important? It’s not just who owned it, there’s a lot more to the story than that.

Hill Top Farm, tucked away in the charming village of Near Sawrey was purchased by Beatrix in 1905 with the money she had made from the publications of her early books. 

This in itself was an achievement, for a woman to buy a house on her own was a very rare thing in the early 1900s. Especially a woman who had earnt money herself. Upper Middle Class women like Beatrix were expected to behave in a certain way and conform to the social expectations of the time. Beatrix did not do that. She was never one to conform with what others expected. Especially her parents. 

In the summer of 1905 Beatrix became engaged to Norman Warne, at the age of 39. Utterly delighted and in love the couple had planned to purchase a small cottage in the Lake District as a holiday home. Her parents, furious by the engagement, strongly opposed the union. Disapproving of Norman’s career in trade and considered him of a lower social standing. (Which was utter nonsense). 

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Tragically, only a month after their engagement, Norman passed away. Beatrix was heartbroken. Away in Wales with her parents at the time, Beatrix was summoned back to London, but arrived too late to say goodbye. Grief stricken, she went ahead alone to purchase the house that was meant to have been the perfect escape for her and Norman. 

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Here, she was able to throw her grief and energy into the farmhouse. Overseeing renovations, she found comfort in the peace and quiet of the Lake District, relishing in her independence and healing her broken heart. Without the distraction of Hill Top, Beatrix may have been consumed by grief and with the oppression of her London life she would not have had the space and time she needed. 

Hill Top would remain incredibly important to the author for the rest of her life, she not only used the farm in her little stories, taking inspiration from the area that surrounded her. But it would remain her sanctuary, a place she would go to work, to be alone, and to remember Norman. She would wear the engagement ring Norman gave her for the rest of her life. Decades later, whilst working in the fields, the ring was lost, despite her best efforts she couldn't find it, a few days later a farm hand presented her with the ring he had found and brought it straight to her. 

Beatrix did find love again and In 1913 Beatrix married Hawkshead solicitor William Heelis, the two lived in Castle Cottage in Near Sawrey.  Hill Top was to remain her house, and her space, perfect and just right, she felt it was too small for them both to live in it. Everyday, Beatrix would walk across the village to the farm. Taking care of business, either her literacy business or that of her increasing portfolios of farms. 

Happily married, she started moving on from children's books to concentrate more on farming. She was becoming a passionate sheep farmer and over time gained the respect of other lakeland farmers. Her other enthusiasm was to protect and preserve the beautiful landscape of the Lake District. As more and more development was taking place, Beatrix realised the importance of preserving the land for future generations. 

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On her death in 1943, she left Hill Top to the National Trust, for the enjoyment of the people. With the strict condition it would remain a working farm, (which it still is!) The house is more than a quaint attraction, but also a symbol of what a woman achieved on her own, despite the difficulties that life threw at her, to create the life she wanted and on her own terms. 


Visit Hill Top and other locations that inspired Beatrix Potter on one of our Tours!