Ambleside 2014 - Beatrix and Charlotte?

Long before I ever heard of Charlotte Mason, I knew who Beatrix Potter was, so seeing her Hill Top Farm was something I was looking forward to.  Knowing that their years in the Lake District overlapped, surely they met - right? Charlotte Mason established herself at Ambleside in 1890 , while Beatrix Potter vacationed in the Lake District in the 1890's and bought Hill Top in 1905.  It would be fun to try and find this out and indeed, it turned out to be an interesting adventure with lots of rabbit trails both literally and figuratively speaking.

After Kent made a tasty breakfast at the cottage, we jumped on the double-decker bus for another white knuckle drive to Bowness where we would take the ferry to the other side of Lake Windermere. And by the way, Arthur Ransome's story Swallows and Amazons is alive to me in a whole new way now, having been on his beloved Lake Windermere, the setting of the story.

the ferry
Lake Windermere

Hill Top was charming.  It was dark inside as to protect everything from UV damage.  When children enter, the guides hand them a copy of The Tale of Samuel Whiskers so they can see the rooms in the house as she painted them in the book!  The rooms are exactly as Beatrix left them.  I was excited to recognize a painting hanging in the stairwell of The Honourable Mrs. Graham by Thomas Gainesborough, an old friend studied in our TBG Community.
at Hill Top Farm

Peter?  Benjamin?

friends at Hill Top Farm
love this bee hive!
I approached a National Trust guide with a few questions about the local flora and fauna.  She asked why I was there and I explained a little about CM and the Armitt.  A fascinating discussion ensued with this talkative host.  Yes, she knew all about the bluestocking CM who founded the college at Ambleside.  Oh, yes, she had lived at Eynsham Hall near Oxford, hobnobbing with the rich and famous.

Wait.  What??

You see, she said CM was her mother's godmother!  She also made a connection to James Bond, but I don't recall the details.

So of course she had the full attention of the 4 of us.  This was not the CM we thought we knew!

Apparently, there were lots of CMs in England at the same time our CM was living.  We conferred with a few experts, namely Margaret Coombs and John Thorley, to see what they made of this lady's claims.  Indeed, she was mixing her Masons, if you will.  The dates don't line up exactly.  We were glad to know that we were in possession of the truth, but the ride of speculation was pretty wild.  Kent even suggested that she was pulling our legs as we were so eager to listen to her speak.

Did Charlotte and Beatrix know one another?  I asked Margaret, the author of the upcoming biography on CM this question.  Here is her answer:

I recalled that Beatrix Potter, who having spent holidays in the Lake District during the 1890's, settled there at Hill Top Farm near Sawrey in the early 1900's and so overlapped with Charlotte Mason. 

I have not seen any record of their meeting or corresponding.  Perhaps BP's art was too precise by comparison with Mrs. Steinthal's blobs or her children's books viewed as twaddle.  However, the students dressed up as BP animals for CM's last Christmas party in 1922!

More significantly, in 1911, CM used the solicitor whom BP married in 1913 and her was again involved in 1923 judging by his correspondence listed in the CM archive.  He was W.H. Heelis & Son and had a large family before marrying BP.

BP knew Canon Rawnsley, whom CM also knew. BP helped Rawnsley with the National Trust which he founded but again, no record of involvement by CM.  CM knew both Rawnsley brothers - probably Willingham the best - quite well and wanted Canon to finish the last two books of The Saviour of the World!
 Some interesting bits in that, isn't there?  I wonder if there are any pictures of the students when they dressed up as BP's animals from her stories.

John Thorley concurs with this.  Charlotte Mason must have known of Beatrix Potter, but we have no evidence (yet!) that they  met.

Rabbit trails, indeed!

Kent and Mr. McGregor



  1. I remember my friend Stephanie Wamsley, the lady from New Zealand who was born close to Ambleside, and who visited it too herself as a follower and promoter of CM and her education, told me she lived so close to Beatrix Potter, and she was always intrigued as to why CM had almost no interest on her neighbor and contemporary's work.

  2. Oh my, what an adventure! It all sounds wonderful Nancy. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I have wondered also. Certainly they knew of each other. Certainly the smallness of village life as Jane Austen wrote about would make it so you knew your neighbors. I have many books on and by BP and always looking for a handshake between them. Did she ever meet John Ruskin?

  4. Wow! How interesting!! The connections are so neat...I just read about Arthur Ransome and Lake Windermere in How the Heather Grows....so neat!