On this day in history….28th July 1866

On this day in history : 28th July 1866 – The birth of Beatrix Potter – the creator of much loved characters such as Peter Rabbit…. But there was so much more to this favourite children’s author….

Beatrix Potter, 1913 – Public domain

Born Helen Beatrix in South Kensington, London, she was the daughter of lawyer Rupert Potter and his wife Helen…. Beatrix had a somewhat lonely childhood; she was educated at home by governesses and hardly ever mixed with other children apart from her little brother, Walter Bertram, who arrived in 1872….

Both Beatrix and Walter loved animals and had many pets, including mice, frogs, snakes, lizards, bats, a hedgehog and rabbits….two of which were called Peter Piper and Benjamin Bouncer….

Beatrix Potter, aged 15, with her spaniel ‘Spot’ – Public domain

The family spent long holidays in the countryside each year…. During her younger years Beatrix’s parents would rent a house in Scotland for three months and then later, when she was 16, they began to rent Wray Castle, near to Ambleside in the Lake District…. It was here that Beatrix was to become acquainted with the vicar of Wray, Hardwick Rawnsley, who was to become a founding member of the National Trust…. It was his love of the countryside that was to inspire her….

Beatrix continued to study wildlife and botany – and she was invited to study fungi at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew…. With the encouragement of Scottish naturalist Charles McIntosh she became an accomplished scientific illustrator…. In 1896 Beatrix wrote a paper – ‘On the Germination of the Spores of Argaricinae’ – which was her own theory on the reproduction of fungi spores…. However, her paper was rejected by the director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, mainly because she was a woman…. But a year later a fungi expert at Kew presented her paper, on her behalf, to the Linnean Society of London…. Her work was never published but she is now accepted as being a major contributor to the research of mycology….

Beatrix Potter – ‘Reproductive System of Hygrocybe coccinea’ 1897 – Armitt Museum and Library – Public domain

Beatrix’s own personal artistic and literacy choices were influenced by her love of fantasy and fairy tales…. By her teen years she had become a regular visitor to art galleries in London…. During the 1890s she and her brother began to produce and print Christmas cards and other greetings cards…. Appealing animals such as mice and rabbits featured heavily…. Printing company Hildesheimer & Faulkner bought her illustrations of Benjamin Bunny….

The last of Beatrix’s governesses, Annie Moore, was only three years older than her and so was more of a companion – they were to become life long friends…. Annie was to have eight children and Beatrix would send them delightful illustrated letters from her holidays…. Tales about four little rabbits – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter…. It was Annie who suggested these would make wonderful children’s books….

Peter feasts on Mr McGregor’s vegetables – Public domain

In 1900 Beatrix edited her stories and looked for a publisher – unsuccessfully…. Undeterred she had her book published at her own expense in December 1901 – she gave copies of her book, with its black and white illustrations, to family and friends as gifts…. Hardwick Rawnsley, having faith in her book, took it to the publishing houses himself…. Although previously rejected by Frederick Warne & Co. – and who had now decided they wanted to get into the children’s literature market – the book was accepted…. Beatrix added colour to her illustrations and on the 2nd of October 1902 ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ was published and became an instant success…. The next year it was followed by ‘The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin’ and ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’…. In all Beatrix wrote 23 such children’s tales….

First edition, 1902 – Public domain

With the proceeds of her books and the help of an inheritance from an aunt, in 1905 Beatrix bought Hill Top Farm near to Sawrey in the Lake District – a 17th century house with a 34 acre working farm…. The existing tenant farmer and his family agreed to carry on managing the farm whilst Beatrix learned how to raise livestock…. In the beginning she had cows, pigs and chickens….and then she added sheep….

Hill Top, near Sawrey – Image credit : Richerman – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

Beatrix then bought another neighbouring farm, ‘Castle Farm’ – using the services of a local solicitors firm – W.H. Heelis & Son…. Beatrix gained more than just a farm; on the 15th of October 1913 she and William Heelis were married in London…. They moved into the newly renovated farmhouse on Castle Farm…. ‘The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck’ and ‘The Tale of Tom Kitten’ are a reflection of this happy time in her life….

First edition – Public domain

In 1923 Beatrix bought Troutbeck Park Farm, a large sheep farm in the Troutbeck Valley…. She restored it with thousands of Herdwick sheep, a breed she had become enamoured with…. Beatrix was to become one of the main Herdwick sheep breeders in the Lake District…. In 1942 she became President-elect of the Herdwick Sheepbreeders’ Association – but sadly did not live long enough to take office….

Beatrix was to buy a total of 16 farms and was very much a ‘hands-on’ farmer herself – helping with hay making, bringing in thee sheep – or whatever else needed doing…. She continued her conservation and preservation of fell-farming work throughout the hardship years of World War 2 – but before the War had ended, on the 22nd of December 1943 she was to die from heart disease complicated by pneumonia….

Beatrix left the farms and some 4,000 acres of land, cottages, cattle and Herdwick sheep to the National Trust…. She also left to the Trust nearly all the original illustrations of her books…. Hill Top Farm was opened to the public in 1946 and her artwork was displayed there until 1985…. It was then moved to Wiliam’s former solicitor’s offices in Hawkshead – which had also been left to the National Trust…. This is now the Beatrix Potter Gallery….

Peter and Benjamin gather onions for Mrs Rabbit – Public domain
Beatrix Potter, 1912 – Public domain

On this day in history….11th August 1897

On this day in history : 11th August 1897 – The birth in East Dulwich, South London of much-loved, best-selling children’s writer Enid Blyton….

img_3700
Fair use

Enid Mary Blyton was the eldest of three children, having two younger brothers…. It was shortly after the family moved to Beckenham, which was then still a village in Kent, that Enid caught whooping cough and nearly died…. She was nursed back to health by her father, Thomas Carey Blyton….

Enid adored her father, the pair were very close…. It was he who got her interested in nature, being passionate about wildlife himself…. He would take her on long nature walks and also shared with her his love of gardening, art, literature and theatre…. This was all much to her mother’s disapproval, with whom she did not share the same loving relationship…. Enid was devastated when her father left the family to live with another woman; she was only 13 at the time…. When her parents eventually died Enid did not go to either funeral….

Between 1907 and 1915 Enid attended St. Christopher’s School in Beckenham…. She was particularly good at sport, was a tennis champion and captain of the lacrosse team…. She was not a keen academic scholar but had a natural gift for writing…. She finished school as head girl….and upon finishing her education she moved out of the family home and went to live with a friend…. Not long after she moved to Suffolk, to Seckford Hall near to Woodbridge…. She trained as a teacher and in January 1919 secured a teaching position at Bickley Park, a school for boys in Kent…. In 1920 she moved to Surbiton in Surrey as a governess to the four sons of architect Horace Thompson…. Soon other children joined them; there was a lack of local schools in the area and before long the house, Southernhay, in Hook Road, housed a little school in its own right…. These were very happy days for Enid….

img_3707
Southernhay

Enid began writing in her free time; after winning a writing competition it didn’t take long for poplar publications to begin taking an interest in her poems and short stories…. Her first book, ‘Child Whispers’, was published in 1922 and in 1923 she had poems published alongside Rudyard Kipling, Walter de la Mare and G.K. Chesterton….which increased her popularity….

img_3702
‘Child Whispers’ (1922) – credit Phyllis Chane – Public domain

The 1930s saw her develop an interest in writing about myths and legends…. The first of her 28 book ‘Old Thatch‘ series was published in 1934 and ‘The Enchanted Wood’, the first in ‘The Faraway Tree’ series came in 1939…. By the 1940s she was a prolific author and went on to bring us ‘The Famous Five’, ‘The Secret Seven’ and of course ‘Noddy’….who first appeared in the Sunday Graphic on the 5th of June 1949….

img_3708
Image credit : Shekhar Sahu via Flickr

Enid married Major Hugh Alexander Pollack on the 28th of August 1924 and the couple had two daughters, Gillian and Imogen…. However, the marriage became troubled and ended in divorce…. She then married London surgeon Darrell Walters, with whom she had been having a long-term affair, on the 20th of October 1943…. She suffered a miscarriage after a fall – but for Enid and Darrell there were to be no children….

In 1957 Enid’s health began to decline and by 1960 she was showing the first signs of dementia…. Her husband died in 1967 and Enid herself passed away the following year, on the 28th of November, in Hampstead, London….

img_3705
Credit : Blytonite at English Wikipedia CCO

On this day in history….15th April 1929

On this day in history : 15th April 1929 – Author of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, donates his copyright fee for the story to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, in London….

img_2840
J.M. Barrie 1892 – National Media Museum @ Flickr Commons

James Matthew Barrie was the ninth of ten children and was born in the weaving town of Kirriemuir in Scotland on the 9th of May 1860…. His father was a hand-loom weaver….

img_2845
J.M. Barrie’s birth place

When Barrie was 6-years-old his older brother David – the apple of his mother’s eye – died in a tragic skating accident the day before his 14th birthday…. His heartbroken mother, Margaret, drew some comfort from the notion that her beloved David would forever remain a child to her….

It was a thought that stayed with Barrie as he grew up….an ‘everlasting childhood’….and would eventually develop into the story of Peter Pan….

img_2846
Illustration of Peter Pan playing the pipes by F.D. Bedford from ‘Peter and Wendy’ – Public domain

Barrie always had a love for children….none more so than for the children of his dear friends Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies…. It was in 1897 that Barrie first met their three boys; George 5, Jack 4 and Peter, who was still a baby…. Two more boys, Michael and Nico were to be born to the family later….

In 1901, the family joined Barrie for a summer holiday at his Surrey home, it was then that he was inspired to write ‘The Boy Castaways’…. The story drew on the antics, games and adventures of the Llewelyn-Davies boys – and was a prequel to Peter Pan….

img_2844
Arthur Llewelyn-Davies and sons 1905 – Public domain

Sadly, when the boys were still very young, both Arthur and Sylvia died from cancer…. Although Barrie’s own marriage had broken down and he was now divorced he became guardian to the children…. It was his life with the boys that formed the bedrock of Peter Pan….

It was in a chapter of ‘The Little White Bird’ in 1902 that Peter Pan made his first appearance – the story tells of how baby Peter learned to fly…. Barrie then wrote a stage play which was first performed at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London on the 27th of December 1904…. The play was a huge success and Barrie responded by writing the novel ‘Peter and Wendy’ in 1911…. It was an instant bestseller and has been in print ever since….img_2843

In 1929 Barrie was asked by Great Ormond Street Hospital – who he had supported for a long time – to sit on a committee to raise funds for a much-needed hospital wing…. Barrie declined their invitation but said he hoped he could find another way to help….

It was two months later that the Board learned, with much surprise, that Barrie had donated all rights of Peter Pan to the hospital…. Every play performance, every book sold – a benefit to Great Ormond Street Hospital…. Barrie just asked that the amount of money raised was never revealed….and it never has been….

by Herbert Rose Barraud, sepia carbon print on card mount, 1892
by Herbert Rose Barraud, sepia carbon print on card mount, 1892

On this day in history….22nd March 1744

On this day in history : 22nd March 1744 – The first book of English nursery rhymes, called ‘Tommy Thumb’s Song Book’ is published – featuring many rhymes that are still well-known today….

The full title of the book was actually ~ ‘Tommy Thumb’s Song Book for all little Masters and Misses; to be sung to them by their Nurses ’till they can sing themselves…. By Nurse Lovechild’….

The book was published by Mary Cooper of London. She was the widow of publisher Thomas Cooper – and after his death she continued the business…. A few weeks after the book was published a sequel followed – ‘Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book’….

img_2607
The first page of ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ – from an 1815 edition

No copy of the first volume remains – but a copy of the second is held at the British Library….for years it was thought to be the only one in existence…. However, in 2001 another copy surfaced – it sold for £45,000….

The book contains forty nursery rhymes, many of which we still teach to our children today….

‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’, ‘Little Tommy Tucker’, ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’….img_2608

‘Hickory Dickory Dock’, ‘Little Robin Redbreast’, ‘Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross’….

img_2609

‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’, ‘Boys and Girls Come Out to Play’, ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’….

img_2610

‘Ladybird Ladybird’, ‘Mary Mary Quite Contrary’, ‘Oranges and Lemons’….

img_2611
Internet Archive Book Images via flickr

Such lovely childhood memories…. Ironically, the engraver who did the illustrations for Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, was one George Bickham Jnr….who was sued by the government of the time for selling pornographic prints….

On this day in history….8th March 1859

On this day in history : 8th March 1859 – The birth of Kenneth Grahame, the Scottish author who brought us tales of Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger in ‘The Wind in the Willows’….

img_2527
Image credit : Paul K via Flickr

Kenneth was born in Edinburgh; his mother died when he was just 5-years-old. His father, an alcoholic, gave up the care of his children to their grandmother…. Kenneth, his brother, sister and a new baby went to live with ‘Granny Ingles’ near to Cookham, Berkshire….

It was a large tumble-down house – in a certain state of neglect – but it had a big rambling garden and was near to a river…. The children’s uncle, David Ingles – curate of the village church – introduced them to the delights of the riverbank and boating…. It was an idyllic place for a childhood and believed to be the setting for ‘The Wind in the Willows’…. Eventually though the family had to move, as the chimney stack of the dilapidated old house collapsed….

Kenneth had wanted to go to Oxford University – but because of finances this was not possible…. Instead he started work in 1879 at the Bank of England…. He worked his way up and by the time he retired (due to ill-health) in 1908 he had risen to the position of Secretary of the Bank of England….

In 1899 Kenneth married Elspeth Thomson – and the following year they had a son…. Alastair was born premature, he was blind in one eye and suffered from health problems throughout his life….

On retirement Kenneth took his family back to live where he had spent his childhood – Berkshire…. At his son’s bedtime he would tell the boy stories and it was then that the characters of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ were created…. Toad was based on Alastair himself – whilst Ratty was influenced by Kenneth’s good friend and fellow writer, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch…. Kenneth frequently went on boating holidays – without his family – but when he was away he would write home to Alastair with more tales of Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger…. Later he was to use theses stories as a basis for his book, which was first published in 1908….

img_2528
Ratty and Mole – Image credit : Amber Case via Flickr

Tragically, on the 7th of May 1920 Alastair committed suicide on a railway line…. It was five days before his 20th birthday – he was an undergraduate at Oxford University…. Out of a mark of respect to his parents the death was recorded as accidental….

Kenneth himself died in 1932 in Pangbourne, Berkshire. English novelist and playwright Anthony Hope – who happened to be Kenneth’s cousin – wrote his epitaph….

‘To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the river on the 6th of July, 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time’….