Hidden inside books and discovered during conservation work, a series of secret drawings by Beatrix Potter are set to go on display for the first time after they were discovered at Melford Hall.
A regular visitor to Melford Hall and cousin to the resident Hyde Parker family, Beatrix Potter’s connections to the Suffolk hall have long been known. But these drawings, never seen before, give a unique insight into the life of the artist and writer behind the series of internationally beloved children’s stories featuring characters such as Peter Rabbit.
Four delicate line drawings of scenes from both inside and outside Melford Hall are to be shown for the very first time as part of an exhibition celebrating Beatrix’s links there. The exhibition will reveal more about her interests and artistic inspirations away from the famous animal characters that brought her children’s stories to life.
Three of the drawings were discovered by Josephine Waters, house manager at Melford Hall, during some cleaning work.
“I was moving a bookcase together with a colleague, and whilst we were going through some of the books we discovered a drawing tucked inside, it was classic Potter style and we immediately knew it was one of hers,” said Josephine.
“It was an absolutely spine-tingling moment, I remember all the hairs on the back on my neck stood up as we realised what we’d found. Working with a collection like this, it was a dream come true.
“This year is the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter being born, which just makes it feel even more special for us to be able to share these pictures now.”
Two more drawings were also found hidden inside books and have been in careful storage ever since. When a fourth was discovered just a few weeks ago by Lady Hyde Parker, who lives at Melford Hall with her husband, Sir Richard, they agreed to allow the National Trust to put the artworks on display.
Ethel Leech, Sir Richard’s grandmother, was Beatrix Potter’s first cousin, and they were close as children whilst they both lived in Kensington. When Ethel married the Reverend Sir William Hyde Parker it was natural for the cousins’ relationship to continue.
Beatrix would regularly take extended holidays at Melford Hall between 1899-1916 and her name and doodles can be found in a number of visitor books in the house. Beatrix would always carry a camera or sketchbook with her, and would sketch, paint or photograph.
Josephine said: “We do not know the exact dates for all the drawings, but they give us a glimpse into the world of Beatrix beyond the children’s stories and help us to imagine more about who she was as a person, and particularly who she was when she was on holiday and drawing for her own entertainment.
“One of the drawings is marked as ‘unfinished’, so it certainly makes me wonder whether she would have added more to it or painted in some colour.”
Melford Hall is also home to the original Jemima Puddle-Duck toy, thought to have inspired the favourite children’s story. Jemima was a gift from Beatrix to the children in the Hyde Parker family, and she can still be seen today in the Nursey.
As well as the four previously unseen drawings, the ‘Beatrix Potter’s Melford: Holiday Sketches 1899-1916’ exhibition will include a number of other drawings she completed during her visits to Melford Hall, many of which are rarely on show.
Visitors can also discover more about how Melford Hall provided inspiration for some of the paintings found in the famous children’s stories, with chairs, fireplaces and other furniture from the hall all appearing alongside animal characters such as Squirrel Nutkin and the Tailor of Gloucester.
Melford Hall will be honouring Beatrix Potter on what would have been her birthday, with a special party inspired by the writer on Thursday July 28.
William, Ethel’s eldest son, once said: “We just loved it when she arrived, for she always brought a cage with mice, another with a hamster or a porcupine.”
Inspired by this visitors to the birthday party will be able to visit a petting zoo and learn more about the animals that inspired Beatrix to write her stories. There will also be party games and goodies to take home too.
Beatrix Potter’s Melford will be opening on Wednesday, July 13, and running until the last weekend of October.