Photograph of the Month - October 2013
Past display archive
1 October - 31 October 2013
Beatrix Potter (Mrs Heelis); William Heelis
By Clarence Edmund Fry & Son
Sepia-toned print, 1913
This newly acquired engagement photograph marks the centenary of Potter’s marriage to Heelis on 15 October 1913. No photographs of the wedding day exist, although Potter’s father Rupert, a barrister and prolific amateur photographer, did photograph the couple the previous day in the back garden of the Potter family home in Kensington, London. The ceremony was a quiet one and took place in the local church of St Mary Abbots.
Potter’s international reputation as a children’s writer and illustrator was already well established when she married. Nineteen of her twenty-three ‘tales’ had been published, the first of which was The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902). Potter met Heelis, a solicitor from Hawkshead, when he acted for her in the purchase of Castle Farm in the Lake District village of Near Sawrey in 1909. The couple settled there after their marriage. A shared love of nature, the countryside, farming and the preservation of rural life contributed to their happy marriage of thirty years.
This portrait is shown in context with two photographs of Potter, taken a few months before her marriage, at Hill Top Farm by Charles G.Y. King, a visitor from America.
Potter purchased Hill Top Farm in 1905, prior to acquiring the adjacent Castle Farm, with the royalties from her first book and its related merchandise. This followed the unexpected death through leukaemia of her editor and first love, Norman Warne. They were engaged for just four weeks. Hill Top and the surrounding countryside inspired Potter and feature in many of her later books.
With the purchase of Hill Top and Castle Farms, Potter began establishing herself as a major Lake District landowner and farmer, breeding Galloway cattle and prize-winning Herdwick sheep. She also actively participated in local village life, leaving her little time to dedicate to her writing and drawing. Passionate about preserving the Lake District landscape and culture and the traditions of fell farming, Potter bequeathed over 4,000 acres of land, sixteen farms, cottages and her cattle and sheep to the National Trust when she died.