A Tribute to
(1866 - 1943)
The Blue Plaque at Gorse Hall Estate, Stalybridge, celebrates the site of Gorse Hall which was built by Beatrix Potter's maternal grandparents, John and Jane Leech. Beatrix often visited Gorse Hall with her mother, Helen Leech.
It was unveiled on the 23rd November 1999, by John Heelis OBE, great nephew of Beatrix Potter's husband, William Heelis.
Gorse Hall, Stalybridge
John and Jane Leech bought the Gorse Hall estate in 1835 and built a new mansion, also Gorse Hall in 1836. This is located further up the hill, not far from the Old Gorse Hall.
John and Jane Leech, like many prosperous families of the age, had five daughters and three sons. One of the daughters, Helen Leech, married Rupert Potter, son of Edmond Potter, another local successful businessman of the day, who ran Dinting Vale Printworks near Glossop.
The happy couple married at the Unitarian chapel in Hyde in 1863 when Helen was 24. They started married life in London and spent their first three years in Upper Hartley Street.
In 1866, when Helen was expecting Beatrix, her first child, they moved to Bolton Gardens, a four storey house in Kensington, which was to become Beatrix Potter's nursery, playroom, and eventually her studio.
Nearly six years later, her brother Bertram was born. Beatrix enjoyed drawing and painting from a very early age and her talent quickly developed as she grew older.
Family visits to Gorse Hall
Beatrix Potter made several visits to Gorse Hall with her mother. Her last visit was on 2nd April 1884, just after her grandmother, Jane Leech had passed away.
She describes her feelings before the visit on 28th March 1884 in her coded journal.
"...It is the last chance of seeing the old house. Not that I look forward to it as an unmixed pleasure. I have a very pleasant recollection, which I fear may be changed. I have now seen longer passages and higher halls. The rooms will look cold and empty, the passage I used to patter along on the way will no longer seem dark and mysterious; and, above all, the kind voice which cheered the house is silent forever. It is six or seven years since I have been there, but I remember it like yesterday. The pattern of the door mat, the pictures on the music box, the sound of the rocking horse as it swung, the engravings on the stair, the smell of Indian corn and feeling on plunging one's hand into the bin, the hooting of the turkeys and the quick flutter of the fantail's wings. I would not have it changed."
On that day, April 2nd she wrote:
"...A painful and dreary visit. My first feeling on entering was regret that I had come. How small the hall had grown, there was a new doormat-but in a minute or two it had come back. It was the same old place, the same quiet light and the same smell..."
On that last visit, Beatrix went into the cellars with other members of her family. There she found:
"Such an extraordinary collection of lumbar I never saw ... the old grey rocking horse on whom I sat down instead of climbing, and a kind of hooped stool for holding a baby ... the ... strange old piece of furniture belonged to great-grandmother Ashton."
Gorse Hall remained empty until 1891, when it was bought by a Cheshire business man and his wife. On All Saints day 1909, he was murdered at the Hall. A crime which was never solved. The following spring his wife moved to another house, and in the summer of 1910 Gorse Hall was sadly demolished.
Beatrix Potter had an unsentimental and yet powerful love for the countryside, and her escapes from London to the heart of Nature inspired her art throughout her life.
She began her career as a children's author and illustrator. In December 1901, 250 copies of the famous "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" came off the press, shortly after, Frederick Warne and CO had agreed to publish the story on the condition that she illustrate it in colour. "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" appeared in October 1902, and by the end of the year 28,000 copies had been printed.
Beatrix went on to produce more well loved stories and as the demand for her work grew she became financially independent. She was able to buy some land in the tranquil Lake District and in 1913 she married solicitor William Heelis, and moved there permanently.
Beatrix became a sheep farmer and a conservationist. She was involved with the National Trust and for seven years managed Monk Coniston Estate, which she helped to buy for them.
She died on 22nd December 1943 with her husband Willie by her side. She left over 4,000 acres and fourteen farms to the National Trust, so that traditional Lake District farming methods could be preserved. Her stories will never be forgotten and will live on in the memory of every child who listens to the beloved tales of her enchanting characters.
Top right: "Now My Dears"
Middle right: "Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny Collecting Onions"
Bottom right: "Peter Rabbit Eating Radishes"
The Future of Gorse Hall Estate
The Estate currently belongs to Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, Groundwork Tameside, and the Millennium Commission. Friends of Gorse Hall was set up in 1998 to work alongside the above groups, to help promote the area and preserve it's historic interest.
Many beneficial projects have taken place for the community, including, a Millennium view point, standing stones showing past scenes of Stalybridge; including one of the old hall and an arts trail.
Future projects planned include improvements to the entrances on Richmand Close on the High Street and resurfacing the drive.
The assistance of the following are gratefully acknowledged:
- Glynis Reeve
- Camilla Hills, Frederick Warne and CO
- Sarah Parkin, Groundwork Tameside
- Lynn Wild, Tameside MBC
Frederick Warne and Co is the Owner of all rights, copyrights and trademarks in the Beatrix Potter character names and illustrations - visit their Website www.peterrabbit.co.uk