3 December 2016

National Trust: Putting Hill Top To Bed

Jane Watson, who helped spearhead the Beatrix Potter 150 Anniversary Project within the National Trust, has closed up Hill Top for 2016, and reflects on a busy year in Cumbria celebrating one of the world’s favourite children’s authors, Beatrix Potter.


It’s been a busy old year in Far Sawrey. Celebrating what would have been Beatrix Potter’s 150th Birthday, we welcomed the world’s media – either at the door or over the airwaves: On the 28th July our gardener Pete Tasker was featured as ‘Mystery Guest’ on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2; we hosted BBC Breakfast TV on the morning of the birthday.  In typical Cumbrian fashion in the middle of July it was a day when the rains came, but we still had a huge Birthday Party in Beatrix’s honour, with visitors signing a giant card, eating cake and even singing ‘Happy Birthday to Beatrix’ live on Radio Cumbria, led by Helen Ghosh, the National Trust’s Director General.

It’s been the busiest year ever for Hill Top. Visitor numbers are up by 20% on last year and we’ve worked closely across the Lakes and beyond to go deeper telling the story of this remarkable woman.  This year we also celebrated 70 years of Hill Top being opened to the public – how things have changed since that first year back in 1946.

Our Cumbrian partners this year have been: Cumbria Tourism, World of Beatrix Potter Attraction, Lindeth Howe Hotel, Yew Tree Farm, Coniston, The Lingholm Estate, Windermere Lake Cruises, Mountain Goat, the Armitt Museum, Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, and the Sawrey House Hotel.  Nationally we worked with Penguin Random House, National Trust at Mottisfont, Hampshire & Long Melford in Suffolk, the Seven Stories Story-telling centre in Newcastle, and the Royal Mint.

So: winter is here and Hill Top house closed the door to its last visitor and begins its winter slumber.  In the Trust we call it ‘putting the house to bed’ and it’s aptly described.  Behind those closed shutters and doors, a team of busy conservationists get to work on the vast and fragile collection of Beatrix’s belongings, which we are entrusted to keep in tip-top condition, year in year out, for visitors to explore and enjoy.

Cleaning under the beds Image © National Trust

Cleaning under the beds
Image © National Trust

John Moffatt, General Manager for South Lakes & Beatrix Potter Properties said: This year’s huge success, along with record visitor numbers means we are able to continue the conservation work Beatrix Potter started and continue to look after her legacy in the Lakes.  It’s been thrilling for us all to see just how relevant Beatrix is even today in the 21st century, and how much people love her work and what she did for the Lakes.”

The team starts by taking an inventory of all the objects in the house, and uploading the results to the National Trust’s collections management system: a modern way of keeping tabs on the collection, ensuring nothing has gone missing and all is well.

The other major job is to check the actual condition of the house – it’s such a busy property, welcoming over 100,000 visitors through its small front door every year, there is always quite a lot of wear and tear. The place gets a proper inspection for any work needed; then follows a deep clean, and white dust covers are placed over the large pieces of furniture, giving the place a bit of a ghostly makeover for anyone wandering around in the half-light.

Luke Dusting Image © National Trust

Luke Dusting
Image © National Trust

Our trusty band of conservationists will be dressed in any combination of up to 6 layers of clothing, hats, scarves and gloves. The temperature outside is obviously falling each week in the winter, and so does the ambient temperature of the house. There is always a background ‘conservation heating’ system on throughout the winter, to protect from hard frost and all that brings, but to us soft modern home dwellers, it definitely feels like the heating is switched to ‘off’.

Conservation and Engagement Assistant, Rebecca Short said: “It is a privilege for us to be able to handle Beatrix’s belongings and the doll’s house is one of our favourites, as it brings to life the story of ‘The Tale of Two Bad Mice’. It even has miniature books that Beatrix wrote in.”

Book from dolls house Image © National Trust

Book from dolls house
Image © National Trust

Gardener Pete Tasker said: “It’s a time for me to get on with all those essential winter jobs, clearing out the garden, hunkering everything down for the winter, and preparing the ground for the hard frosts and snows, so all Beatrix’s plants come back as lovely as ever next year”.

Clare Perry, Project Manager said: “As a fitting end to the year, we wanted to launch the first ever ever Beatrix Potter Awards. We’re now sifting through entries in 7 categories from farming, to volunteering, Herdwick sheep champions, to story illustration. The shortlisted results will be announced in January, with a ceremony at the Lindeth Howe in February. “

Next year we’re planning new tours and a new exhibition at Beatrix Potter Gallery; and looking at ways to take visitors beyond the usual, to discover how we’re looking after the places Beatrix loved and left us.

Hill Top in the snow Image © National Trust

Hill Top in the snow
Image © National Trust

Hill Top and the Beatrix Potter Gallery open again on Saturday 18 February, 2017 – find out more at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hill-top


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