Last year marked 150 years since her birth and inspired a series of events, but coming into 2017 an auctioneer based on the doorstep of Potter’s beloved Lake District is offering an interesting handwritten letter from the then Beatrix Heelis, as she became after marrying at the age of 47. It is on sale at 1818 Auctioneers on February 6.
Heelis wrote to the Mayor of Kendal, Henry Airey, on August 30, 1937, on fine tissue paper. She starts by saying "you may remember my name" and goes on to congratulate him on a speech he gave a year earlier to celebrate the town’s success in securing the tiny prayer book of Catherine Parr, sixth and final wife of Henry VIII.
The mayor had campaigned hard to raise funds to buy this because of an important link to Kendal: Parr’s father Sir Thomas Parr (c.1483-1517) was an English knight, courtier and Lord of the Manor of Kendal in Westmorland.
However, the main reason for the letter is, she says, to reassure him of her plans for a loom she purchased that very day: Kendal’s last working loom. She writes “I will not take away a relic of Kendal without telling you” and that it will not go to “Kendal museum, a dreary jumble of stuffed birds and sundries …” but perhaps to “Coniston to the estate ‘workshop’...”.
She ends her letter by saying they are both “sentimental antiquarians”.
This letter, a copy of the prayer book and photographs of the ceremony are being sold by Airey’s great-grandson. The copy bible was presented to Airey at the ceremony by the famed writer Hugh Walpole - who also signed it along with Margaret Strickland of Sizergh Castle.
David Brookes, 1818 Auctioneers valuer, has put an estimate of around £1500 on the collection. Last October, 1818 sold another Potter letter, signed and dated November 27, 1929, for a low-estimate £1500.
Written to Miss Roberts of H Roberts Booksellers of Kendal by Beatrix Heelis, this outlined her reasons for not publishing The Fairy Caravan book in the UK .
Brookes says of the latest Potter offering: “The two-sided letter is a delight to read. It is full of wit and reinforces her passion for and commitment to preserving local skills and traditions. Given the mayor’s successful efforts to secure the queen’s Book of Devotion, we can understand why she wanted to reassure him of her motives regarding Kendal’s last working loom.”
Last year the Royal Mint issued a series of 50p coins featuring characters from her books to mark the 150th anniversary.
In the auctions world, a December 13 sale offered one of the earlier colour drawings of rabbits produced by Potter, depicting cycling bunnies that are assumed to be prototypes of Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter. It sold for a hammer price of £16,000 at Sotheby’s.
Signed and dated 1895 in the lower-right corner, it was sent to the sisters Elinor and Elizabeth Lupton, whose great aunt was Potter’s grandmother.
The 1895 date is significant, for it was only around 15 months earlier that Potter had sent a letter to Noel Moore in which she told a story about four little rabbits with the names that were in later years to become familiar to millions.