There’s something intriguing about a fancy mansion stuffed with books—just the thought evokes images of precious pages and tantalizing discoveries. One such mansion is Melford Hall, a romantic manor in Suffolk, England, that has played host to queens and famous authors. And as The Guardian’s Sian Cain reports, Melford Hall contained an intriguing, century-old secret: previously undiscovered illustrations by children’s book author Beatrix Potter found tucked into books by conservators.
Potter, who is best known for characters like Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck, was a regular guest at the house, which was the home of a cousin and childhood friend. The children who lived there delighted in her tales of animals; she frequently brought animal friends along with her to the home. But conservators were surprised to discover that she had drawn the house during her vacations there, writes Cain. While going through books in a home, they found several drawings of Melford Hall that, with the help of a conservator who had found a similar piece, were identified as Potter’s.
A factsheet provided by the National Trust, the conservation organization that maintains Melford Hall for the British public, notes that Potter’s “signatures and little animal sketches” can be found in the mansion’s visitor’s books. The author’s Melford Hall drawings, however, depict something quite different: the mansion itself. They include line drawings of a door, an ornate fireplace, details from the home’s Gothic roof and the “chamber room” where Potter slept.
While the existence of more Potter drawings was a surprise, their subject matter shouldn’t be. Though Potter will always be remembered for her whimsical animal portraits, she was an masterful scientific artist, too. Over the years, she became an accomplished mycologist, producing hundreds of illustrations of the natural world. That interest in the natural world carried over to her children’s books, which depict both flora and fauna in loving detail. Potter apparently honed her craft on interiors at Melford Hall, too.
This isn’t the first time new Potter work has been discovered—a researcher recently located a previously lost book by the author. It will be published to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the timeless storyteller’s birth this year. Melford Hall will do its part, too. The “secret” drawings just went on display at the manor in Potter’s guest room. They can be viewed alongside other art she made on vacation—proving that beautiful surroundings and intriguing interiors are sometimes the best inspiration.