Loves and losses

Norman Warne was the youngest of the three brothers who ran the publishing firm of Frederick Warne & Co., and he was assigned to be Beatrix Potter’s editor for The Tale of Peter Rabbit. He and Beatrix got on well from the first. Beatrix frequently made the journey by carriage to the Warne offices in Bedford Square to discuss the book’s production with Norman. It was not considered appropriate for a lady to visit business premises alone so Beatrix always had to take a female friend as a chaperone to these meetings.

By the time Beatrix was preparing The Tale of Two Bad Mice in 1904, Norman was fully involved in the creative process, buying doll’s house furniture as props for Beatrix to draw and inviting her to his brother’s house in Surbiton to sketch a real doll’s house he had made. Beatrix’s mother, however, refused to let her go. In her view, the Warne family were “in trade” and therefore not suitable friends for her daughter. Beatrix cared nothing for this. A romance was developing between her editor and herself, even though they were never able to spend any time alone together. On 25th July 1905 Norman sent Beatrix a letter proposing marriage. Beatrix’s parents were horrified and forbade the match. Eventually a temporary compromise was reached, whereby Beatrix was allowed to wear Norman’s ring but the engagement would not yet be made public. Sadly the issue was never resolved. Norman suddenly became very ill with a form of leukaemia and he died only a month after his proposal.

The tragedy was devastating for Beatrix but she did her best to overcome her grief by devoting herself to her work. She also spent as much time as she could in the Lake District where she was using the income from her books to buy farmland. The solicitor who helped with her property dealings was a local man, William Heelis, and he was to become the second love of her life. Their relationship developed gradually as they worked together and shared interests in the countryside and conservation. This time Beatrix ignored her parents’ opposition and she and William were married in October 1913. They remained happily together in the Lake District until Beatrix’s death in 1943.