5 September 2014

The Hill Top 5

From Tony Blackburn to Fearne Cotton, whatever age bracket you fall into I am sure that you remember listening to one music countdown or another, therefore I am sure the format of this month's 'Behind the Scenes' blog should be fairly familiar - No need to panic just yet, Pete. I'm not going to include any musical links in my post.

Instead of counting down musical entries I am going to count down the top 5 items that the public and our lovely visitors ask about on a daily and weekly basis.
The ones that you will read about are all contenders for the top spot but only one can win the coveted position. Are we ready? Here we go!

At 5 is a firm favourite.
It's the bittern! This fellow has taken up an elevated position and stands upon the aptly named 'Bittern Bureau' – a coincidence? I think not!

He is often mistaken for a heron but this guess isn't too far off, both are after all, wading birds. It's widely accepted that Beatrix had a passion for natural history so I don't think it's too odd that she had this little chap at Hill Top. Where she got it from however or from whom, well, that is another matter entirely.

What lovely long legs you have...

Holding strong at 4 are the set of 5 oil paintings that are hung in the New Room, painted by Bertram Potter (Beatrix's younger and rather talented brother) which were given to her as gifts.

From looking at them I bet you can guess what the comment we receive most often is, “Oh my gosh! Aren't they dark!” And yes, they are pretty dark, and to be honest they aren't my most favourite things in the house ('Crikey' you're thinking, one thing she doesn't want to take home!) B must have liked them and perhaps even had a little pride in the fact that her little brother had such a love for art. 
If I had to choose the one that I liked the best, it would have to be this one entitled 'Scene in a Pine Forest with a Stream' – err... catchy title, eh?!

Just look at the size of these whoppers!

Totally overshadowed by Beatrix, Bertram wasn't a terribly famous artist and these aren't his best work. Like Beatrix, he had an immaculate eye for detail, something I hope you'll take my word for.

Number 3 on our countdown is something that I haven't been asked much about this season although I'm sure that my colleagues might have had a different experience and disagree with me.
Here they are, essentially pieces of wood held onto the underneath of a beam with a bracket.



Just hanging around

One rather hilarious suggestion I've received for their use is for exercise, namely pull ups! Can you imagine B doing them? I won't tell you what other bits of furniture that people have suggested could be used as workout equipment but there have been a fair few.

So what are these things? In fact, the truth is far less amusing but no less interesting. They are shelf supports and in another life they would have held up planks of wood. Upon these you would have been able to store things, or perhaps you would have out  food up there to cool after cooking. We like to joke that we keep our choccy biscuits up there away from potential critters!

I'm going to take a small intermission at this point to introduce this month's..
“Hello there!”
There is a poodle in the Sitting Room cabinet who is so. Weird. I'm sorry to say it but I think it is, I don't even know why I like it (but I do :) )... And he's rude, look at this, he's turned his back to us.


Does my bum look big like this?

To be fair it's not totally his fault, he spins around in the cabinet because of the vibrations from the floor caused by all our visitors feet.
He is made of porcelain, is in the style of Chamberlain of Worcester and dates back to the early 19th Century.
He's just one of the doggy ornaments, figures and pictures in Hill Top. B had several dogs herself throughout her lifetime, perhaps they came second to her beloved rabbits? See how many you can spot on your next visit to Hill Top!

Back on with the chart!
Climbing high at 2 are the plates on the kitchen wall.


How similar the subject matter is to Beatrix's. In spite of the similarities, they were not painted by her but her father Rupert Potter – it seems art was a family affair.
By all accounts he was quite the talented amateur artist and had a great enthusiasm for art and photography. I like to think that B got some of her natural talent from him as well as her love for painting animals, although there is no denying that her work is much finer.


These pretty plates have been transfer printed and given to Beatrix as presents during her childhood, hanging on her wall in Bolton Gardens, her childhood home, it is no wonder that they have a special place in her first and favourite Lake District home.

Soo.. before we find out what the most asked about object at Hill Top is, here are numbers 5 – 2.
At 5, it's the long legged Bittern.
At 4 are the enormous paintings in the New Room.
3's just hanging around, it's the shelf supports.
2 are Rupert's plates that have pride of place on the kitchen wall.

On today's countdown the number one spot goes to.. (drum roll please)

The clockwork roasting jack!
Hanging next to the range this beautiful brass object gets a lot of attention on any given day at Hill Top. This interesting machine rotates the meat roasting from it's hook and aims to cook it evenly on all sides by rotating clockwise and then anticlockwise and so on.


I've heard it called a bottle jack, I don't know how true this is as my dad hasn't heard of it before (and he is the go to man when talking antiques!) but it's said the name comes from it's shape – like a wine bottle.

Unlike many people, I originally thought that it's hook was for cheese (don't ask me why I thought this, to this day I still don't know what was going through my mind) but my friend and colleague, Jane, pointed out that this was ludicrous resulting in a little light teasing every so often.
Unfortunately we don't have the key so we do not know how it runs or if it even still turns.

In spite of this, I think it's totally gorgeous and would have it in a second!


Wow, what a range of objects in our countdown and this week's blog.
You never know, the top 5 might move around a little bit by next year, it's all up to you, our visitors :)

As always I hope you have enjoyed reading this broadcast, come back next month for more 'Behind the Scenes' action where I will be talking about what we actually do when we are closed on a Friday and over winter :)


Ta ta for now


Words and pictures by Natalie :)
(With a little antique advice from my Dad)

22 August 2014

Gather Ye Rosebuds

Summer seems to be drawing to a close here in the Lakes, it's been a good one with lots of hot sunny weather but as I write this it's raining steadily and there's a definite chill in the air. There a rumours of a September heatwave to come but I've written before about 'Indian Summers' and their scarcity in this part of the country.

As I stood in the border this week untangling bindweed from the still to bloom Michaelmas Daisies I realized how many plants in Hill Top garden have uses beyond just looking pretty. Apart from the obvious fruit and vegetables there are a number of plants which have medicinal or household uses.

The most noticeable one at this time of year is the Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) which spreads rather alarmingly around the borders and flops gracefully onto the paths at every opportunity.  It's a perennial plant introduced to Hill Top by persons unknown which goes by a multitude of other names including 'Bouncing Bet', 'Fuller's Herb', 'Latherwort', 'Crow Soap', 'Farewell To Summer' and the rather bizarre 'Jill Run By The Street'!


Soapwort

It was apparently brought to England during the Middle Ages by Franciscan and Dominican monks who brought it as “a gift of God intended to keep them clean" and by the end of the 16th century it had become widespread in England, where it was used for cleaning dishes and laundry and presumably the grubby populace too. The leaves and roots when boiled in water make a mild soap solution which is still used today for cleaning delicate textiles like lace. Gerard's Herbal also recommended it as a topical disinfectant for “green wounds” and “filthy diseases”, and it was also used for the treatment of acne, psoriasis, eczema and boils amongst other things.

Also flowering in the garden now is the Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) which in frost-free climates is a short lived perennial but in Britain has to be treated as an annual and grown from seed every year (the plants at Hill Top are all descended from some seeds I brought back from a trip to Tunisia 20 years ago).


Pot Marigold

Calendula is said to be useful for disinfecting and treating minor wounds, conjunctivitis, cuts, scrapes, chapped or chafed  skin, bruises, burns, athlete’s foot, acne, yeast infections, bee stings, nappy rash, and other minor irritations and infections of the skin. And if that wasn't enough the petals can be used as a substitute for saffron, hence the common name 'Pot Marigold'. Some claims should be taken with a pinch of salt though, especially the one made by 13th century Roman poet Aemilius Macer who wrote that merely gazing at the flowers "will draw wicked humours out of the head, comfort the heart and make the sight bright and clean".

Another late-flowering (and annoyingly floppy) resident of Hill Top is Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) which was first recorded as being grown by the Ancient Greeks, and by the sixteenth century it was considered "necessary for a garden" in Britain.

Tansy

Like the others it has a multitude of uses including treatments for intestinal worms, rheumatism, gout, digestive problems, sores, flatulance, migraine, and as a preserver of meat.
Tansy was also used as a 'strewing herb' to be scattered on the floors of houses to keep away insects (fleas especially) and to release a scent when walked on which would mask the unpleasant odours common in the days when you shared your living room with goats and chickens and flushing toilets hadn't been invented yet. Think of it as a kind of early Shake 'n' Vac!
Tansy leaves were also made into a tea and incorporated into cakes and puddings commonly eaten around Easter as a remembrance of the bitter herbs eaten by the Jews at the passover.

I have to say I've never tried any of the above remedies so please don't try any of them at home, except perhaps gazing at Marigolds!

I'm not having a musical link this time but instead including a short poem which seems appropriate for a gardening blog at the end of another summer. It's by Robert Herrick (1591-1674) who was probably no stranger to a strewing herb or a tansy pudding and is ostensibly a piece of advice to young ladies to marry whilst still 'in their prime' (he'd never get away with that these days)! But read between the lines and it's also about making the most of whatever time we have and 'seizing the day'. 


To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
   Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
   Tomorrow will be dying.


The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
   The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
   And nearer he’s to setting.


That age is best which is the first,
   When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
   Times still succeed the former.


Then be not coy, but use your time,
   And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
   You may forever tarry.

Robert Herrick.

Enjoy what's left of the summer, see you next time.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener / Robert Herrick.

1 August 2014

If objects could talk...

First things first, when did it become August?! I'm sure everyone will agree that this summer is going faaarr too fast!
Now that's dealt with, on with this week's post!

I am sure that all of my colleagues at Hill Top would agree that one question we get asked most often in the house is “What is behind this door?” or “What's in there?”. The other day, these simple questions got me thinking and triggered off a happy memory from my first encounter with the South Lakes, Hill Top and Beatrix Potter, not just her books.

February 2013 saw me interview for the position of seasonal Conservation in Action Assistant with the South Lakes. This required me to bring along an object to do a casual presentation on. It had to be something that I considered special, I had to tell it's story as well as how I looked after it. 
I'm not going to pretend I wasn't absolutely terrified, because I was, but I was also excited.
I bet you're wondering what I chose? I took my Mum's pot cupboard. Originally used to house the chamber pot it has loooong thin legs, a little door on the front and a galleried top. 

One stipulation was that it had to be portable; and despite the size it does have two little handles so I decided it met the criteria. If you asked Liz, our House and Collections Manager about it I'm sure she would say it was memorable!

I decided upon it because as a child I used it as my hiding place for 'special things' (and leftover food that I didn't want to eat and believed I could get away with 'hiding'). Without mentioning any of this to my youngest brother, Matthew, he had begun doing the same thing, using it as his hiding place. In fact it was still full of his things when I opened it at the interview, he had all his little Easter chicks and drawings in there ready for April – he's nothing if not prepared :)

After this little reminiscence it occurred to me that it didn't matter that there wasn't anything super rare inside objects or behind doors because what makes a seemingly straightforward object interesting is the stories behind them. And in the end, it's our own curiosity that pushes us to find out what is inside.

So, really, I can totally relate to our visitor's curiosity and I (not so) secretly ask similar questions when I visit historic houses.

With this in mind I began to look around the house for places that are kept hidden from the public (and some of us staff and volunteers) and here is what I came up with, I hope you enjoy it!

Whether we're asked outright or not, I think everyone wants to know what is behind a closed door.
There are three doors in the landing. One looks pretty unassuming and I suppose it is, but this cupboard has an interesting story.
Within this small space is where the original staircase in the house would have come up through the floor and you can see the remains of the stairs themselves in the left hand corner of the kitchen below. What I like about this little space is that it has been wallpapered, and it has been said that Mr S Whiskers tore a piece off the bottom with his sharp teeth leaving a hole where it once was!


This little cubby also boasts a row of brass hooks put into the wall. From what I've picked up from Hill Top's wonderful volunteers this was Hill Top's wardrobe which makes sense when you think of the ladies' heavy skirts that would have required hanging to dry out.

 I'm hooked!

At the moment it's also a temporary home to the work-box from the Parlour, after a damp spell over the winter months when the house was closed he was affected and so has been placed up here for the time being to halt any recurring problems.

On your next visit to Hill Top, if it's quiet, be a little cheeky and ask the guide on the landing for a tiny sneak peek inside! It does happen now and again :)



I was poking around the other day, looking for something or other in the old court cupboard when I felt a smile come across my face. This piece of furniture dates from 1667 and is of Westmorland origin.


Westmorland was one of 39 historic counties in England before it was swallowed up and became the 'new' county of Cumbria in 1974, along with Cumberland and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Beatrix recovered this piece from an old farm property and I have previously heard that it had to be practically pulled out of the wall – I hope it's true because I love the image of the house not wanting to let this gorgeous piece of oak go!

This is one piece of furniture that people instinctively want to have a look inside.


But what is inside do you think? Something special?
Umm.. well sort of. It's full of books, lots of books and other bits and pieces, I believe the Beatrix Potter Society visitors book resides in there somewhere.

A little light reading?

Basically we still use it for it's original purpose – storage for our bits and bobs, not unlike my brother and his pot cupboard (did I forget to mention he's laid claim to it now as well?) I love that this magnificent oak is still strong enough for us to use it as it was intended.
B must have loved this piece of furniture as she called it her 'favourite court cupboard' in a letter from 1940 and I can certainly see why!
There is a lock plate on one side... I still haven't worked out quite why it's there. Although I suppose recycling is no new thing.

I have been gagging to get this in a blog post from the start and now I finally have the chance! It is stun-ning and all of us at Hill Top get asked a lot of questions about it but what exactly is it?


I have to be truthful and say that I wasn't exactly sure before I began researching it, I've heard a lot of conflicting stories of what it is but officially we have it down as a Japanese Tansu.
Made near Tokyo in the 1920's it is covered in a rich parquetry of irregular geometric shapes.

From a spot of research a 'Tansu' is a traditional mobile storage cabinet. This would certainly explain the handles on either side. It certainly is a lovely thing, and what I think it especially lovely is that the lock has been put on upside down. I hope Beatrix felt the same way as me and enjoyed this little quirk.

Upside down...you turn me..¯¯

So, you think it's beautiful on the outside? Check out the inside! Many cabinets are gorgeous on the outside but the inside, rarely seen, doesn't get the same kind of treatment, well not this one. All the drawers have been treated with the same respect and have been parqueted.


It sits in the front Parlour and due to space restrictions it's secret insides rarely get seen so I'm excited to show this one to you all :)


I haven't forgotten about my new weekly feature, I'm going to call it 'Hello there!'

Just look at this serene face, I particularly love his little rosy pursed lips and round cheeks.



Peek-a-boo!

 This long case clock was made in the mid 18th Century, between 1730 and 1770 and sits proudly in Beatrix's kitchen in a little alcove that looks as though it was made for it. Fans of her books will recognise this clock from her books, The Tale of Gloucester and Cecily Parsley. 


I believe that this aperture above the centre of the clock shows us the phases that the moon goes through, so that must make him the moon? Or perhaps the man in the moon? I'm not 100% sure but I do know that I like it.. I mean, him :)


This petite castellated turret is a late addition to this week's post. 
To be honest I've never taken much notice of it before but as happened previously I was in the New Room on a quiet afternoon and I began to notice it.


I didn't know what it was at the time but after a little investigation I discovered that this lovely thing is a needle case. There is a red ribbon inside with the needles on, this unwinds and you can pull it out from the loose section and to rewind it again you simply turn the 'pointy part' that is stuck on the top like an aerial in a clockwise motion.

I think it's rather charming and something I wouldn't mind having... you've probably guessed that there is a lot of things I wouldn't mind having!

That's your lot for this week. I really hope that you've enjoyed hearing my little story and reading about my choice of objects for this week.


I'd love to hear about the objects that you hold dear and the stories that are behind them! You can post them in the comments section below :)

Ta ta for now :)

Words and pictures by Natalie

25 July 2014

Exploring the Lake District by foot, bus, bike and boat with Peter rabbit

The Lake District is full of options for people wishing to leave their cars behind.  You really don't need to be an athlete to explore the countryside without a car.  Buses, bikes and boats allow everyone to enjoy the view and avoid congestion on the narrow roads.
 We have explored one of these possibilities with a very famous character; Peter Rabbit.  Peter wanted to follow in the steps of the woman who created him and learn more about her life, talents and legacy as well as seeing her home and many of his friends.

Peter was staying on the Eastern side of Lake Windermere near Bowness and so he decided to set out on his journey by boat.  First decision - whether to get the passenger ferry from Bowness or the car ferry from Ferry Nab.  Owing to Beatrix Potter's connection with Cockshott Point he decided to lollop a few steps south and get the car ferry.  It runs every 20 minutes and takes cars, bikes and pedestrians (and horses).

The next step can be done on foot or by bike or bus.  Peter tried bike but couldn't quite reach the pedals!

He wanted to see where Beatrix Potter first met the Lake District so he set out on the beautiful 4 mile walk along the lake shore to Wray Castle.

Beatrix Potter discovered the Lake District almost by mistake when her parents' regular holiday home in Scotland was unavailable.  She celebrated her 16th birthday at Wray Castle and fell in love with the area ....Maybe you will too!

Peter decided to explore the Castle.  The tour told him all about the castle and the link between Beatrix and one of the founders of the National Trust.  Then he had a play with some friends, built his own castle and polished off his picnic with some hot chocolate.

Then a quick scamper round the outdoor play area   ....

....Then on to discover more about Beatrix's passion and skills in sketching, drawing and painting at the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead - but this time on the bus from Wray Castle.

The bus only takes 10 minutes and the service also runs to and from the ferry if you don't fancy the 4 mile walk Peter did. 

From the bus stop it's only a couple of minutes walk through the village to the Gallery.  Peter couldn't resist a visit to the National Trust shop.

Back to the bus stop and another 10 minute bus ride to Beatrix Potter's house, Hill Top.

The village of Near Sawrey is where Beatrix Potter settled and took refuge from the London life.  It is where she found inspiration for many of her little books.  It was as wonderful as Peter hoped and he managed to catch up with some old friends hopping around the orchard!


Peter had intended to finish his journey by following the footpath through the fields and down to the ferry but he fancied a cup of tea at the Tower Bank Arms which he remembered from reading the story of Jemima Puddleduck  ....


..so, after some refreshment, he caught the bus back to the ferry.

Why don't you follow in the steps of Beatrix Potter like Peter did?  If you're staying in Ambleside you can get a boat directly to Wray Castle.  Maybe Peter will try that on his next visit ...

Bye for now.

Enjoy your holidays  using your feet, bikes, boats and bus to explore!

18 July 2014

What do you call a rabbit with no ears?

Visitors to Hill Top will have noticed our resident population of rabbits in the orchard adjacent to the garden. Contrary to popular belief, they are real wild rabbits and they are free to come and go as they please and as long as they don't stray into the garden, we pretty much leave them alone. Over time they have grown used to our visitors and are happy to browse on the grass just a few feet from the fence and the camera-clicking tourists.

Just recently a new addition to the warren has caused a bit of a stir..


Anyone seen my ears?

Notice anything unusual about about this little chap? That's right, he's got no ears! Here's a close up view


Aaaaah!

I don't know if he was born without his ears or if he lost them in an unfortunate accident but it doesn't seem to bother him and the other rabbits treat him just the same.
Thinking about it, I haven't seen him for a while, perhaps he's gone off on an adventure to find his lost ears? Cue for a book anyone?

We've had some lovely sunny dry weather recently and the garden is looking great, even the veg garden is coming good (slugs hate dry weather). Crops of strawberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries have been gathered in and my long suffering runner beans are two-thirds of the way up their poles.


Runner beans
The main borders are a riot of colour and the roses on the new trellis are in full bloom.


High summer


We recently heard that the gardeners at Mottisfont had drawn up a rose garden inspired Spotify playlist. Not to be outdone, and with much better taste in music(!) I managed to come up with a Hill Top top 20 with some tracks relating to the garden and others to the little book characters. We're releasing it in two parts so my musical link this time is actually 10 tracks..don't say I'm not good to you! the link is here.

Bye for now.


Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener.

11 July 2014

Dedicated to all Pickles - especially to those that get upon my shop counter

Once upon a time there was a village shop. The name over the window was “Ginger and Pickles”…

OK, so a few things have changed in our shops since Beatrix Potter’s day; our counters are no longer a convenient height for rabbits and we don’t sell sugar, snuff and galoshes. But it’s certainly fair to say, in Beatrix’s own words, that there is something to please everybody.

Beatrix herself had a very business-like approach towards her own merchandise. She was heavily involved in the design and manufacturing of products based upon her characters, such as dolls and figurines. Market research and copy-right protection were taken care of herself, and she insisted the original quality of her artwork be maintained in all other products.
Certificate of registration for a Peter Rabbit doll, 1903

We live up to her standards today, providing our visitors with only the highest quality stock, so in this week’s blog I’m going to show you some of the fantastic Beatrix Potter treasures available in our shops right now.
Shops at the Beatrix Potter Gallery, Hill Top & Wray Castle.
Notice the beautiful fairy-tale display at Hill Top (above centre), which was hand-made by our retail manager Gillian.


Since 1850, Fritz Bermann's Petri Bronzes have been cast using traditional methods and lovingly painted by hand, making each piece unique and individual. Originally made for Beatrix Potter and on display at Hill Top, these bronzes are now made in small numbers especially for the collector. These bronzes pictured above, and many others, are available to buy in the Hill Top shop.

This cute and cuddly Peter Rabbit soft toy is also available at Hill Top shop and come in an exclusive and eye-catching bag.

Receive an exclusive book-plate as a souvenier when you buy one of Beatrix's classic tales from Hill Top, the Hawkshead shop or the Beatrix Potter Gallery.

After viewing Beatrix’s original artwork at the gallery, pop into our Hawkshead shop and feast your eyes on these spectacular illustrated prints.

This design and many others available at our Hawkshead shop.

Each one of these limited edition prints are beautifully double-mounted and individually numbered by hand.

Our shops provide a mail order service too, so there's no need to worry about fitting them in your suitcase. Just ask at our shops or call us for more details:
Hill Top shop pagehttp://bit.ly/TWRp1U 

Hawkshead Page: http://bit.ly/VSEijG

You can also visit our on-line shop here:
http://bit.ly/1lZQgxi

Before I go I’d like to mention our best sales-man cat, Sparky, who has been doing a purr-fect job welcoming customers at the Hawkshead shop.
Will work for cat-nip”
Thanks Sparky!

This week’s musical link is dedicated to you, pickle:



Pictures and meowsings by Emma, crazy cat lady in residence.