Childless author and conservationist Beatrix Potter bequeathed much of the land that makes up the Lake District to the National Trust

By Nina Steele 

The Lake District was awarded the title of World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2017. When I heard the news, my first reaction was “what took them so long”? My husband and I have had many hiking holidays in Keswick and love the area. It is simply stunning. I remember the sense of complete awe I felt the first time I visited. And even though we have returned many times, the area will always have a special place in my heart, and I suspect that the same can be said of many among the 15 million plus visitors to the area each year.

As beautiful an area as this one is, it is bound to attract some famous residents and one of those was writer Beatrix Potter. She lived in the area for over 30 years. Writing wasn’t the only passion she engaged in. She was a keen conservationist and her immense success as an author allowed her to indulge her love of nature. Keen to make sure that the area’s beauty was not spoiled by developers, she purchased “4,000 acres of land and 14 farms which she bequeathed to the National Trust”. It is said that “today, thanks to her vision, the Trust is responsible for the upkeep and protection of a quarter of the Lake District”.

Beatrix Potter was married to solicitor William Heelis from October 1913 until her death in December 1943. The couple shared a love for country living and her husband played a key role in helping her acquire much of the farms that would eventually make up her estate. They are said to have “enjoyed a happy marriage, continuing their farming and preservation efforts throughout the hard days of World War II”. Furthermore, we are told that “although they were childless, Potter played an important role in William’s large family, particularly enjoying her relationship with several nieces whom she helped educate, and giving comfort and aid to her husband’s brothers and sisters”.

Once again, a childless person is showing that legacy can mean many things. Millions of us are able to enjoy the beautiful trails and unspoilt landscape of the Lake District thanks to the vision that Beatrix Potter had for the area all these years ago. Instead of using her money for her personal pleasure alone, she wanted to ensure that the country as a whole benefitted too. Today, with global travel having become an everyday occurrence, her legacy is far reaching in ways that even she may not have anticipated.

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