Hill Top was never a traditional home for Beatrix. It was more a life-sized doll’s-house that she filled with treasured objects – apt for a woman who herself admitted that she ‘never grew up’. She never lived here full time, though. When she married local solicitor William Heelis in 1913, she bought Castle Cottage, a larger home over the road, in which to enjoy married life. She invited family, friends and guests to Hill Top, but the house was always entirely her own. As such, it is the most personal monument there is of one of the last century’s greatest illustrators and storytellers.
Hill Top unleashed Beatrix from the shackles of her middle-class Victorian upbringing. Like many children of her class, Beatrix, born in 1866, suffered a cloistered childhood. Tucked away in the third-floor nursery of 2 Bolton Gardens, London, she grew up with only her brother Bertram for close company. Her mother discouraged friendships with other children, saying Beatrix and Bertram would ‘catch germs’.
As she grew up, Beatrix was increasingly left to her own devices. Art and observing nature were her solace. She later wrote in one of her letters: