Beatrix Potter's London: The Birthplace And Favourite Places Of Peter Rabbit's Creator

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 28 months ago

Last Updated 11 February 2022

Beatrix Potter's London: The Birthplace And Favourite Places Of Peter Rabbit's Creator
Brompton Cemetery. Photo: Edwardx/Creative Commons

Beatrix Potter, literary mother of such whimsical creatures as Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, is more often associated with the rolling hills of the Lake District than the bustling streets of London, but as she was born in Kensington, we're claiming her as one of our own. Take a look at the London locations that inspired her.

Beatrix Potter's Birthplace: Kensington

Photo: Simon Harriyott/Creative Commons

Potter was born at 2 Bolton Gardens in Kensington on 28 July 1866, and she and her brother grew up in London. Beatrix lived in the house until her marriage in 1913; the Potter family sold it in 1924, and it was later destroyed in the blitz. Bousfield Primary School now stands where the house once was.

In 1988, The Beatrix Potter Society teamed up with The Boltons Association and Frederick Warne & Co publishers to erect a plaque on the wall surrounding the school, and it now shows as a site of special interest on Google Maps. Find the plaque on the brick wall on Old Brompton Road, just a few metres east of the junction with Bolton Gardens and Bolton Place.

Beatrix Potter's publisher: Frederick Warne & Co.

Norman Warne's grave in Highgate Cemetery. Photo: Bill Nicholls under Creative Commons Licence.

This Bedford Street-based publishing firm (exact address unknown) was among six that turned down the chance to publish Potter's books the first time round. However, Potter had her story of a rabbit called Peter printed privately in 1901, and when the company saw it, they changed their minds and went on to publish The Tale Of Peter Rabbit and 23 other books by Potter.

Potter's editor was Norman Warne, son of the company's founder, and the pair got engaged in 1905, but Warne died before they could get married. In 2012, there was an attempt to put up a plaque at his Bedford Square home in Bloomsbury but it was rejected, and no other trace of Potter remains in the area today. Warne is buried in Highgate Cemetery. Ewan McGregor played Norman Warne in the 2006 film Miss Potter.

The company received the copyright to Potter's stories and illustrations when she died, and it's now part of the Penguin publishing group.

Beatrix Potter's inspiration: Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery: Photo: theblowup/Unsplash

Rumours have always been rife as to where Potter got the names of her characters. While it's impossible to say for sure, the discoveries of the names Nutkins, McGregor, Peter Rabbett and Jeremiah Fisher on gravestones and in burial records in Brompton Cemetery in 2001 point strongly to this west London graveyard being a strong influence.

Beatrix Potter's archive: The V&A

The V&A has an exhibition about Beatrix Potter in 2022. Courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co.

Although Beatrix Potter's father was a barrister, the family were wealthy enough that he rarely worked. He regularly took Beatrix on trips to London's museums, including the Natural History Museum, where she spent time sketching animals, and the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A).

Today the V&A claims to house the largest collection of Potter's letters, illustrations and photos anywhere in the world, which are on display on rotation. The collection includes the original illustrations for The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and dummy manuscripts.

The V&A has an exhibition dedicated to Beatrix Potter open from 12 February 2022, in addition to the permanent collection.

Beatrix Potter at the Royal College of Art

Being from a wealthy family, Potter didn't receive a formal education — she was taught at home by a governess. However, in November 1878 her parents arranged drawing lessons and enrolled her at the National Art Training School in South Kensington (now the Royal College of Art's Kensington campus).

Beatrix Potter and Kew Gardens

Beatrix Potter was a regular visitor to Kew Gardens. Photo: Daniel Case/Creative Commons

Potter's uncle was Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe, a chemist and vice-chancellor of the University of London. Aware of her growing interest in all thing botanical and her regular visits to Kew Gardens, he introduced Beatrix to botanists there. Through her research at Kew, she wrote a scientific paper, On the Germination of the Spores of the Agaricineae, and submitted it to the Linnean Society, a natural history society based at Burlington House, in 1897.

The very first illustration in Britain of the fungus Tremella simplex was created by Beatrix Potter. © Wikimedia Commons

However, being a woman, she wasn't allowed to be present at the reading of her own paper. It wasn't published (also due to her gender) although scientists today have confirmed her theories as being correct. According to Kew archives, "her theories were later credited to a male German scientist".

There is, however, a bust of her uncle, Sir Henry Roscoe, on display at the Royal Society of Chemistry in Burlington House.