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History of Wray Castle

Black and white image of Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (1851-1920)
Black and white image of Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley | © National Trust Images

Discover more about the history of the Wray Castle estate and the fascinating link that Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the National Trust's three original founders, had with the property.

Hardwick Rawnsley takes up a new role

In 1895 the National Trust was founded by three exceptional leaders: Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, who were united by a belief that beautiful, natural and historic places were worth protecting for future generations.

Almost 20 years previously, Hardwicke Rawnsley, aged 26, had moved to Cumbria to take up the position of Vicar at Wray Church in the Wray Castle estate, and threw himself into life in the local community. He became increasingly concerned about the rapid scale of modern development in the Lake District, and was determined to protect its beauty.

An important meeting

In 1882 a young Beatrix Potter holidayed in the Lake District for the first time as her parents had rented out Wray Castle. The family entertained many eminent guests at the castle during that summer and Rawnsley was invited to one of their dinner parties.

He was an authority figure of an entirely different sort to her parents and this meeting was the start of a great friendship between Beatrix and Rawnsley.

Figurines of Beatrix Potter characters at Wray Castle, Cumbria
Figurines of Beatrix Potter characters at Wray Castle | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

A mentor for Potter

Rawnsley was the first published author Beatrix had met. He praised her little drawings and paintings, encouraging her interest in animals and plants. Through years of friendship and mentoring, he went on to help her publish her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Social reformer

Rawnsley was keen to seek solutions to the problems of a rapidly industrialising and urbanising society in Britain. Whilst at Wray he began his work to defend the Lake District from slate quarrying and associated road and rail developments, and to ensure that people could get out and enjoy the landscape.

Potter and Rawnsley’s shared legacy has played a huge part in shaping the Lake District that we know and love today.

Visitors walking in the grounds at Wray Castle, Cumbria

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