In the tradition of story-telling Lynne McGeachie (an author and member of the Beatrix Potter Society) made sure her audience were “sitting comfortably” before she began to tell the story of Beatrix Potter in Perthshire.
Beatrix Potter was born in 1866 to wealthy parents who lived in South Kensington, then as now a wealthy part of London. Her father, a Victorian gentleman, who although qualified as a barrister had no need to practice.
In the summer of years1871 to 1889 the family holidayed for 3 months at Dalguise House which is situated between Dunkeld and Aberfeldy. These holidays had a profound influence on Beatrix’s life.
She was freed from the formality of an upper middle class Victorian childhood. She wrote extensively in diaries and journals of the joy she experienced in what was for her a rural idyll. Lynne McGeachie quoted extracts from the journals in which Beatrix describes her new surrounding in the most glowing terms.
The holiday break stimulated her interest in nature, she kept pets which she could not do at her London home. She developed a collection of the natural world, not pretty things as might be imagined for a girl of her class, her collection was all sorts of creepy crawly things, dead beetles and the like. She had her first experience of sheep, sheepdogs and of course shepherds. She was fascinated by the work of the dogs a fascination she carried forward into her later life as a hill farmer in the Lake District.
While at Dalguise she spent many hours in the company of her nanny, Annie McKenzie, who told stories of ghosts and fairies which stimulated Beatrix’s imagination.
During the holidays at Dalguise and later at Heathpark, Birnam Beatrix came into contact with many local people. People entirely different from those she would have known in London. She used these characters in her stories. Beatrix Potter wrote her first book in 1893 to cheer up a neighbouring child Noel Morris, who was frequently unwell. Kitty MacDonald, a laundry maid in the Potter household became Mrs. Tiggywinkle. Her pets became Peter Rabbit and his friends.
Beatrix Potter became a skilled artist. She shared her enthusiasm for fungi with the postman Charlie McIntosh. Charlie was a true expert on fungi. He had identified many rare species for the first time. She collaborated with Charlie McIntosh into researching into a wide range of fungi and as Beatrix illustrated many of these specimens she also became an expert.
Beatrix Potter was not solely a writer of children’s books. Lynne’s talk illustrated not only her understanding and love of the natural world but also the width of her knowledge and interests. In 1952 a journal was uncovered in which Beatrix had recorded many of her secret thoughts in a special code she had composed. The journal was deciphered in 1958. The clue to unlocking the code was a reference to Louis 14th of France, further evidence of the range of her thinking.
Beatrix Potter went on to become a prominent sheep farmer and landowner in the Lake District, particularly associated with Herdwick sheep. At her death she left 17 Farms, 8 cottages a total of 4,000 acres to the National trust.
The next meeting on 16th November is the AGM. The speaker has yet to be announced