Thursday, 28 July 2016

Beatrix Potter ~ 150th Birthday

Beatrix Potter levels her strong gaze at the camera as a child

I hate missing anniversaries, and of course as history steadfastly carries on further down the path the chances to stand still to enjoy an anniversary becomes more scarce.

Beatrix aged 10
I love the little pointy hat!

But this one seems impossible to ignore. Resist the pull of time to take just a moment to remember the magic of Beatrix Potter on what is her 150th birthday.

Beatrix Potter book shelf, from Stella Books,
where you can usually purcahse vintage copies of the books.

As a child I did not come into contact with the wonderful words and illustrations she created. Alice, Oz and Wind in the Willows were my childhood companions. My first encounter with Beatrix Potter's world came much later when I began to spend a lot of  time in libraries and back tracked to all the children's literature that I had missed.

Beatrix often claimed that this book was her favourite and she certainly put a lot into the research for the text and llustrations. The story was born in May 1894 during a visit to her cousin Caroline Hutton at Harescombe Grange, which lies five miles south of Gloucester. There she heard the tale of John Pritchard (1877-1934) a very poor Gloucester tailor commissioned to make a suit for the new mayor. When he fell ill it looked as if the suit would not be completed in time. But he returned to his shop on the Monday morning to find the suit completed except for one buttonhole. A note attached read, "No more twist". His assistants had finished the coat in the night, but Pritchard encouraged a fiction that fairies had done the work and the incident became a local legend. The real Pritchard lived at the same time as Beatrix, but she set her tale in the 18th century and made her poor tailor an old one so poor that he could only afford to rent the kitchen in the house where he lived near to his shop.

 Beatrix visited Gloucester and sketched the street where the tailor's shop stood as well as cottage interiors, crockery, and furniture. The son of Hutton's coachman posed as a model for the tailor.

The new suit for the mayor
The Victoria and Albert Museum page on the book says, "Beatrix went to extraordinary lengths to create an authentic setting. Passing a tailor’s shop in Chelsea one day, she deliberately tore a button off her coat and took it in to be mended so she could observe at first hand the tailor’s posture, tools and workbench."

"Her sketches are so accurate that it is possible to identify the original garments, including the mayor’s waistcoat, ‘worked with poppies and corn-flowers’, in the V&A’s collections."

She visited the costume department at the South Kensington Museum to observe details of 18th century dress.  

I come from a long line of seamstresses stretching back farther than I know. My love of textile began in my early years playing at my Great Grandmother's feet with velvet and silk scraps she used for making patchwork quilts. We sewed because of being poor not because of any great talent or need to create. But still, there was a kind of stitch witchery at work as being able to do so gave us great satisfaction as we honed our skills.

No surprise then that my favourite Potter illustrations are those which involve the art of stitching. The Tailor Of Gloucester is so delightful. I love Mice (remember the sewing Mice in Cinderella?) and the illustrations of them are so charming. I also love how the unsuspecting Tailor has help to finish his wares, and the drawings of Simpkin the Tailor's Cat are wonderful. As are the architectural illustrations. Beatrix Potter was a lady of immense talent. (The latest drawings found at Melford Hall are masterful). 

From The Tailor of Gloucester
Simpkin and The Tailor set out for work

The Tailor at work, with help from the Mice!

The Tailor off home.

Simpkin and his master

Beatrix Potter with Her Pet Mouse Xarifa, 1885. Cotsen Children's Library.
Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.
Princeton University Library

 This book always makes me smile when I take it from the shelf and find once more the little Mice amongst the wonderfully pretty china that I should very much like on my own china dresser.

Simpkin hides the twist from the Tailor
Out stepped a lively Mouse who made a curtsey to the Tailor.

The gentleman Mouse bows.

Beswick tailor Mouse

I was late to discover Potter but as soon as I did I knew she was a keeper. I cherish the book I have and a Beswick Mouse inspired by her story.

The Beatrix Potter Shop & Museum in Gloucester

Simpkin in a drawer in the shop!
I have visited places where her spirit lingers. No surprise that I especially love the Beatrix Potter shop and museum in Gloucester. It's set in the most perfect little alley and the inside is as charming as out. It seems impossible that it is real and you feel as if you have fallen into her books. Which is a deep magic that all authors dream to find.

Their own website says, "After an appeal in the local newspaper, in 2006 funds were raised to purchase the freehold of the building. The heritage behind the House of the Tailor of Gloucester is secure. It is now a museum with a gift shop run by volunteers. Visitors may enjoy the tailor’s kitchen where Simpkin keeps watch over his captured mice. Upstairs they can read a brief history of the original tailor, John Prichard, and view a small collection of Potter memorabilia. After watching the automaton where the mice work on the waistcoat, there is the shop where there is hopefully something for everyone. This magical experience is free and everyone can enjoy it."

I loved Miss Potter the 2006 film about her life and work and think that it captured her as I feel that she was. That twinkle in her eye, the smile at the corners of her mouth, and finally the sorrow which haunted her for the rest of her life when her fiancé died so young. She was a strong woman, and looking at the photograohs of her as a child I note that she had no fear of the camera. her gaze is steady.

I'm so glad that the great gift which she left to history, and the home she gave to the National Trust preserve her memory and her work for future generations to enjoy. 

Beatrix and her Brother Bertram

The most wonderful shot of her
Beatrix aged 25 with rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, 1891. © Frederick Warne & Co.

From Miss Potter


Victoria and Albert Museum, Here:

Her Wiki page, Here:

Stella Books, Here:

The Tailor Of Gloucester shop, Here:

Recently found unknown sketches by her, at the National Trust property Melford Hall
Read about them, Here:

A really lovely article about the book,  from 2012,  which includes the pages that were edited out of the pubished book about how Simpkin wanderedr the streets in the snow on Christmas Eve and could hear the animals talking . on, Here:
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