This article was written by Barbara Webber for the Amersham Society/Amersham Museum newsletter and is reproduced here with permission.
At Christmas, friends who often visit the Lake District, gave me a ‘Beatrix Potter Engagement Diary 2006’. As I was looking through the pictures, all painted by Beatrix Potter, I was amazed to find one of Amersham High Street, dated 1905. Questions sprang to mind: Why was Beatrix Potter in Amersham? Where had she stayed? Had she painted other pictures in this area? Where are the original paintings?
A telephone call to the National Trust Manager of the collection and property given by Beatrix Potter, in Cumbria, started the trail of enquiries. She knew that there was more than one picture painted in Amersham and that the originals were in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Curator of the V & A collection knew that the two watercolours of Amersham were painted on 3rd August 1905, and permission was generously given for Amersham Museum to show reproductions of the two pictures.
A search on the internet for any connection with Amersham led me to ‘The Beatrix Potter Society’ and among the publications listed was ‘The Holiday Diary for 1905’. I thought this was going to answer the mystery, but unfortunately there was no mention of Amersham – it was mainly about her time with her uncle in North Wales. When I spoke to a member of the Beatrix Potter Society she was delighted to hear that we were trying to answer the questions that have remained a mystery to them for many years!
Meg Green, a great friend of Jean Archer, had often been told by Jean that Beatrix Potter had stayed in Amersham in a house near the Market Hall, but I have found no one else with any information. By searching the census for residents in the High Street around 1901 I was able to ask Judy Taylor, the present Chairman of the Beatrix Potter Society, if she knew if any of these people were friends of Beatrix. Judy has written several books and is very familiar with all Beatrix’ Journals, but has found no connection yet.
In March I was invited to attend a meeting of the Beatrix Potter Society in London and had a fascinating afternoon with the many enthusiastic members of all ages. One of the founder members gave a talk showing some slides of wonderful unpublished drawings. The Society was founded in 1980 by a group of people involved professionally as curators of Beatrix Potter material. This remarkable woman (1866-1943) was not only the imaginative author and illustrator of children’s books, but also a most talented landscape and natural history artist, a diarist, a farmer and conservationist.
The members of the Beatrix Potter Society will continue to search for the answers to our questions, but if anyone reading this knows where and why Beatrix Potter stayed in Amersham on 2nd and 3rd of August 1905, do please let us know!
Hearsay: Jean Archer believed that Beatrix Potter was visiting Frith House in the High Street, but whether she had any evidence we do not know.