Beatrix with Tom Storey and prize-winning sheep Water Lily at the Eskdale Show, September 26, 1930
Published by the British Photo Press
© National Trust / Robert Thrift


In this photograph Beatrix holds an award for Best Herdwick ewe, won by her at the Fells and Dales Association Show at Eskdale in 1930. The sheep’s name was Water Lily, and the man holding her is Tom Storey, a local shepherd Beatrix hired to help her breed champion sheep. The parish of Eskdale is located about an hour west from Beatrix’s farmhouse at Hill Top.

She first learned of the importance of the Lake District Herdwicks in 1897 from Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, the aptly named “Defender of the Lakes.” Rawnsley was keen to preserve the breed and helped establish the Herdwick Sheep Association in 1899. In 1907, two years after Beatrix purchased Hill Top farm, she had established her own flock of Herdwicks—sixteen in all, with a sheep dog, Kep, to guard them. Her interest in the competitive showing of Herdwick ewes would develop as her flock expanded in size.

Herdwicks are remarkable animals. As described by one of Beatrix Potter’s biographers, Linda Lear, “they can survive the harsh climate on the short herbage of the high fells, and have been known to stay alive buried in snow for weeks, sometimes eating their own wool, sustained by its lanolin content.” Despite their hardiness, the breed’s population was threatened in Beatrix’s day and again faced extinction in 2001, following an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. But there are farmers today still dedicated to saving the Herdwicks and increasing their numbers.