The Troutbeck Valley runs into the fells to the North East out of Windermere, through the seventeenth century village of Troutbeck. The road which runs through the valley rises quite dramatically towards the Kirkstone Pass and its famous Inn, rebuilt in the 1830s by Sewell the local priest.
As you climb the pass there is a superb view to the right of the head of the valley and the piece of land known as the Tongue, (old Norse tunga or table land between two valleys) that joins Hird Ghyll on one side and Hag Ghyll on the other.
At the base of the tongue are the picturesque white farmhouse and out buildings of Troutbeck Park Farm. In 1923 Beatrix Potter purchased the farm, the deeds containing twenty five separately described parcels of land running to 1875 acres for which she paid £8000. The farm was conveyed to her on 28th August 1923 making her one of the largest landowners in the Lakes.
She purchased the farm to save it from being developed into holiday accommodation, a blight on Lakeland which remains even to this day.
The farm at one point was apparently part of an ancient Norman Deer Park and home to a variety of animal and bird life. On its land were stands of old forest, ruined walls and ancient stone huts and cairns, besides an alleged prehistoric burial mound.
Shortly after buying the farm she witnessed her first Coniston fox hunt at the Park. Watching in amazement as the hounds ”bravely spilled down over the crags and fells in pursuit of their quarry”, she had taken off her shoes and stockings and then waded through the beck, the only clean place on the farm to rejoin the hunt spectators.
The Westmorland Gazette of October 1924 records a meet of the Coniston from The Grove Farm on Kirkstone Pass where, after a hunt round the Woundale Valley the fox eventually took refuge in some rocks at Hallylands. A terrier belonging to a Mrs. Leake (tenant at Troutbeck Park Farm) entered the borran and killed the fox, which was recovered, the brush being presented to Mrs. W Heelis (Beatrix Potter).
When Beatrix Potter bought Troutbeck Park Farm, it was tenanted by Mrs. Leake and her two sons. This agreement was to run for another three years. The Leakes had allowed the farmland and pastures to erode and the stream was badly polluted. The farmhouse and out buildings were run down and in need of repair.
William Heelis (Beatrix’s husband) tried to get the Leakes out of the farm sooner so repairs could be commenced, but had little success. In the meantime Beatrix began to add land to the perimeters of the farm as a buffer against development. From December 1923 to September 1927 she added seven closes, including several small contiguous fields, costing an additional £4000 to ensure her intake fields were protected, the aim being to hold all the land along the road frontage against development. Drainage in the fields was a problem as the grazing land was of poor quality with resulting effect on the stock, and despite major investment in materials and labour was never overcome as the photo taken in 2000 shows.
The records show that Beatrix Potter was a great supporter of the Coniston Foxhounds, being both a subscriber and hound walker, a fact sadly glossed over in today’s politically correct culture.
The hound pups immortalized in the book The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck and pictured outside the Tower Bank Arms at Sawrey probably belonged to the Coniston hunt.
When the deeds of her properties were passed to the National Trust, included in the deeds to Troutbeck Park was the clause that foxhunting was to be allowed to be carried out on her land for all time, however there was to be no hunting by Harriers or Otter hounds!
When she died in 1943 her estate was valued at £211, 636.4s.10d, or approximately £7 million at today’s prices.
There is a recollection of Beatrix Potter, which may be of some interest and possible amusement.
In the late 1930s my father was an apprentice plumber working for Huddlestones in the Slack in Ambleside. Today it is known as the Old Forge and is a thriving fish and chip shop but in the 1930s it was a painting and plumbing business, which provided work for several local men.
One morning my father was sent to Hilltop in Sawrey to do a job. He piled his tool bag on the front of an old sit up and beg bicycle without gears and set off.
The road from Ambleside to Sawrey is about 9 miles and besides many twists and turns there are several hills to negotiate. Covered in sweat he arrived, leaned his bicycle against the wall and walked up the path to the front door of Hill Top Farm.
Knocking on the door he patiently awaited a response. Finally the door opened and Mrs Hellis (Beatrix Potter) dressed in old clothes and wearing a shawl and clogs stood on the step.
“Good morning, Maam,“ my father said, “I’m the plumber.” She scrutinised him closely, taking her time to do so. “You’re a young man,” she said. “Are you a tradesman?” He replied, “Not until next year, Maam. I’m an apprentice”.
”I’m very sorry,“ she said, closing the door, “I only employ tradesmen.”