10 February 2024 - 3 November 2024 | Public Event, Event

Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top House reopens with restored 250-year-old window

Hill Top House, garden and shop reopens with new attractions from 10 February, 10am to 4pm daily except for Fridays

A famous 18th century window that features in Beatrix Potter’s 1908 book The Tale of Samuel Whiskers has been restored and returned to Hill Top, the author’s farmhouse retreat in the Lake District.

The large, 250-year-old landing window, with its small leaded panes, is the oldest window in the cottage. After more than two centuries surviving the Cumbrian weather, its condition has steadily worsened and it needed significant conservation work. Now visitors will be able to see it back at its best when Hill Top, managed by the National Trust, reopens to the public on 10 February.

The significant and much-needed restoration work was made possible by donations from generous National Trust supporters and was carried out skilfully and carefully by expert craftspeople.

The window dates back to the late 1700s, when the staircase was added on to the back of the farmhouse. Since then, it has brought daylight into the house and provided its inhabitants and visitors, including Beatrix Potter herself, with views over the village of Near Sawrey.

But when an 18th century window needs to be restored, where do you start?

The glass panels were very carefully removed from the wooden window frame in an intricate operation, requiring glass specialists to be raised by a truck-mounted boom to carry out the work from the outside. It took five-and-a-half hours to remove the four glass quarters of the window – the top two came away straightforwardly, but the bottom section was trickier due to the poor condition of the glass. They then installed a temporary window made of solid polycarbonate, which ensured the space remained secure and watertight while the glass was being repaired.

Steve Clare, of Holy Well Glass Ltd, carried out the conservation work at his specialist studio where he and his team work on all periods of glass, from medieval to modern.

Meanwhile, Stephen Holt, a Specialist Craftsperson from the National Trust Specialist Craft Centre, replaced the wooden elements of the frame at Hill Top that were in too poor a condition to be repaired. He used sustainably sourced oak to replace the bottom sill and the transom (horizontal beam) in the middle of the window – a job that took two days and a great amount of skill. John Wynn Griffiths, Furniture and Wood Conservator, who has worked with the Hill Top collections for many years, stained and waxed the new wood to match the historic wood that surrounds it.

The window was returned to Hill Top on 14 November 2023 and was successfully re-installed.

Laura Ruxton, National Trust General Manager, said: “Thanks to generous donations from two of our supporters, it is a pleasure to have this window conserved and re-fitted at Hill Top. This contribution has ensured the future of this important window and protection of the fragile treasures inside Hill Top. A range of specialist crafts people were required, and it was incredible to watch them use their skills in what was a challenging piece of work.”

New attractions at Hill Top

The special connection between Beatrix Potter’s beloved farmhouse and her little books is the inspiration for a brand-new display at Hill Top this year. In The Tale of Tom Kitten (1907), Hill Top was home to Tom Kitten, his mother Tabitha Twitchit and his sisters Moppet and Mittens, and you can glimpse the house and garden in many of the pages. Tom Kitten: What a pickle will delight adults and children alike with scenes from the book, original Beatrix Potter artwork, and interactive programming.

Another exclusive addition to the Hill Top collection – and a real treat for Beatrix Potter fans – is an excerpt from the original handwritten manuscript of Beatrix’s less well-known but much-loved The Fairy Caravan. It will be displayed in what is thought to be the exact spot where she would have written those very words.

The Tale Of Samuel Whiskers

The Tale Of Samuel Whiskers Or The Roly Poly Pudding was the 16th in Beatrix Potter’s series of 23 ‘little books’, and, like several of her other stories, was inspired by life at Hill Top.

In the story, the farmhouse is home to Tom Kitten, his mother and two sisters, and is overrun with rats. When Tom discovers Samuel Whiskers and his wife Anna Maria living in a secret hideout, they try to turn him into a pudding.

In Beatrix Potter’s illustrations, you can see the window behind Samuel Whiskers as he pushes his rolling pin across the landing, and, in a separate picture, behind Tom’s mother, Tabitha Twitchet, as she stands on the half-landing.

Visit Hill Top House, garden and shop from Saturday 10 February, every day except Friday, between 10am and 4pm.

Image credit: © National Trust Images

 

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