150 years ago today (28th July 1866), Beatrix Potter was born in South Kensington, London. As a child she wrote imaginatively about her pets and she continued this into the stories she wrote for children when she was an adult, including the tales of Mr Jeremy Fisher, Tom Kitten, Jemima Puddle-Duck and, perhaps most famously, Peter Rabbit.
Tenby has close connections with Beatrix Potter. In 1942 she wrote a letter to her publisher concerning Peter Rabbit, in which she wrote “The lily pond in Peter was at Tenby, South Wales.” The pond is no longer there (it has been developed and in the words of Joni Mitchell, ‘they paved paradise!’) but a blue plaque celebrates the fact with the words “Beatrix Potter 1866 – 1943, author and artist, while staying at 2 Croft Terrace in 1900 drew the pond in the garden which featured in The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”
Beatrix Potter had come on holiday to Tenby at this time. Whilst here she wrote a series of charmingly illustrated letters to the four children of her one-time governess, Annie Moore. When she started to write her books she borrowed these letters to remind herself of some of the stories and illustrations in them.
The letters are lovely. They are all dated 24 April 1900. In the letter to Frida, she wrote about puffins and rabbits on clifftops: “These are little rabbits by this time, lots of them, all comfortable in bed, I am sure they don’t give up their holes without a fight!”. ToEric she wrote about a “great man of sarin the bay. It had come around the corner and anchored.” To Noel she wrote about Tenby being “an interesting old town, a great part of the walls are standing: before describing “There is a very old story of the battle of the frogs and the mice; such an old story that I think it was written in Greek. I don’t remember which won; but the frogs were inside at Tenby, for there is Lower Frog Street and Upper Frog Street inside the walls of the town!” In the final letter, to Marjory, she writes about a boat trip, where the boatman rows “close under the cliffs so that I can watch the birds. The rocks are a tremendous height, as high as a church, and quite straight from top to bottom in many places, but sometimes there are little ledges half way ip with wild cabbages growing on them and at the top, here there is soil there is a row of rabbit-holes.” Each letter has a pen and ink illustration, frequently of anthropomorphised animals.
Beatrix Potter’s first book for children, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was published in 1902 and it is wonderful to think that Tenby played its part in this achievement.
The four letters from Tenby are unfortunately not at Tenby Museum. Two of the letters went to America where a third was already in a collection at Yale. The fourth is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. However, facsimiles are available at Tenby Museum.