Mention the name of Beatrix Potter and you immediately think of Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten, Jemima Puddle Duck, or any one of the other delightful characters made famous in her children’s books – but there was much more to this remarkable woman.
Beatrix was born in 1866 into a privileged Victorian family in London but lived most of her adult life in the Lake District. In 1905 Beatrix bought Hill Top, a small 17th century Lake District farmhouse, with the proceeds from her early books. She was passionately interested in conservation and over the following decades went on to purchase 13 additional farms and 4000 acres of land in order to preserve the unique Lake District landscape. Following her death in 1943 at the age of 77 she left everything to the National Trust and is credited with the preservation of much of the land that is now the Lake District National Park. Beatrix requested that her beloved Hill Top Farm should remain exactly as she left it and be open to the public. Hill Top welcomed its first visitors in 1946 and is still open to the public today. 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of Beatrix’s birth.
Hill Top was Beatrix’s refuge. Its rural location and outstanding views gave her the peace and solitude she sought and in the years that followed she went on to write a further 13 of her famous ‘little white books’. She furnished the house with her favourite treasures and antiques and it was her special place. Even when she married local solicitor William Heelis and moved to a larger house nearby she still visited Hill Top every day.
Most of Hill Top’s rooms are small and snug with an atmospheric Victorian feel. The entrance hall has a welcoming black Victorian stove, dark oak furniture and a stone flag floor covered by a rag rug. Beatrix added ‘William Morris’ style wallpaper on the ceiling and walls in this room which was typical of farmhouse interiors at that time. She was a great believer in hand crafted objects with unique charm and an Arts and Crafts style. No self-respecting upper class Victorian lady should be without her parlour and Beatrix used her more elegant front parlour solely for entertaining guests. This room has fine furniture, wood panelled walls and a marble mantelpiece. It is full of her delicate decorative items.
Upstairs is the largest room in the house where Beatrix wrote her stories and letters – she called it her ‘library’. The walls are decorated with paintings by her father and brother plus some of her own.
One thing that does strike you if you visit this house it just how dark it feels inside – you have to wait a while for your eyes to acclimatise to the low light levels. Electricity was never present in the house during Beatrix’s time and although the National Trust have since installed electricity they have tried to keep the light levels as low as they can safely do in order to retain the authenticity and to avoid damage to the contents. One can only imagine just how dark and atmospheric it would have been on a dull winter’s day back in Beatrix’s time. Lighting at that time would have relied on a mix of natural daylight, light from the open fires mixed with candlelight and oil lamps.
Hill Top serves to illustrate the great dilemma faced by many owners of period homes – just how to do you light older homes to retain the character yet still have the benefits of modern electric lighting? Luckily, today, we are fortunate to be able to select light fittings that accurately replicate original lights. Simply ‘Shop by Era’ at Bespoke Lights and whatever the age of your home you will be able to find lighting that is both historically accurate and in keeping as well as being practical and safe.
We have chosen some of our lights that we think would fit in well at Hill Top and hope that Beatrix would have approved and that you do to.
Many older farmhouses and cottages with low ceilings and beams have to rely on wall lights supplemented by table lights and standard lamps to provide an adequate level of light. This can be somewhat challenging if you are trying to keep the lighting in character but still want a decent amount of light. The double swan neck wall light shown in the picture above is from our Heritage Lighting Collection and is a replica Victorian gas light. It has clear ribbed halophane glass shades which give a good spread of light with little or no glare. The rooms at Hill Top, and indeed many other similar properties, are small and need light fittings that are in proportion and fit close to the wall or ceiling to maximise the space. One of our best-selling traditional Victorian wall lights is the neat little Ashby side light shown above. It can be fitted facing up or down and has the most delightful etched amber glass shade
The wall light and small table lamp shown here are from our Period Lighting Collection and would be just perfect in front parlour at Hill Top. Made in the UK from solid brass which has been waxed and buffed to replicate restored antique light fittings from Victorian times. Completed by the typical Victorian amber glass shades.
The Pinestar light fittings are a large collection of matching ceiling lights and wall lights in a choice of sizes and metal finishes. What they all have in common is beautiful handmade etched glass shades. These fittings sit well in Victorian settings and the circular flush ceiling light with its drop of just 14cms would work well with low ceilings, whilst the small pendant makes a wonderful hall or upper landing light. The perfect light for hanging over the dark wooden staircase leading to the upstairs rooms at Hill Top.
And, finally, we surely cannot overlook Beatrix’s study or ‘library’ where she would have sat at her desk looking out at the Lake District landscape as she wrote her stories and letters. What better than a nice desk light to give a bit of extra illumination on overcast days.
Our left hand image above shows a traditional desk light with lots of period detailing and a dark green glass shade. It is hand made here in the UK from solid brass with a natural antique tarnish.
The right image is a Victorian gothic style table light again made in solid brass with a distressed antique finish. Its design is based on a casting taken from an original chandelier found in a Spanish church and dates from around 1800.
Our Barnsbury table lamp below is a faithful reproduction of an original whale oil lamp dating from around 1790 yet with the benefit of modern electric lighting. Hand crafted here in the UK and made in solid brass with a distressed antique finish which will mellow with age much as the original fitting would have done.