Secret Beatrix Potter drawings to go on display for the first time at Melford Hall

Beatrix Potter drawing of a fireplace at Melford Hall in Suffolk

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 at Melford Hall.

A regular visitor to the Hall and cousin to the resident Hyde Parker family, Beatrix Potter's connections 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 here. 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.

Secret drawings discoverd

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."
- Josephine Waters, House Manager

This year is the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter's birth, which just makes it feel even more special for us to be able to share these pictures now.

Beatrix Potter's connection

Two more drawings were also found hidden inside books and have been in careful storage ever since. When a fourth was discovered 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 when 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 between1899 and 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 don't 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.”

The story continues...

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 Nursery.

The original drawings are so fragile that high-quality copies will be on display to visitors, while the originals are kept in safe storage.
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.

Beatrix Potter’s Melford will be running until the last weekend of October.