Still potty for Peter Rabbit after 30 years

As the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction gets ready for another busy summer season, we go behind the scenes of one of the Lake District’s favourite Attractions as it celebrates its 30th Birthday.

Opened by Victoria Wood

28 July 1991

When Roger Glossop opened the doors of the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction for the first time almost 30 years ago, he couldn’t believe what happened. Worried whether anyone would turn up to see the beautiful displays he had created, he was stunned when 700 people flocked through the doors. “I thought we would close after the first day. It’s all been a big surprise, a wonderful surprise,” said Roger. “You build something never expecting that it will still be going almost 30 years later. It’s just brilliant“.

The exhibition is a popular tourist destination. Every year thousands of people from all over the world visit this much-loved Attraction in the English Lake District.

Building an Attraction

Roger, a talented stage designer who has worked around the world in the theatre industry including the West End, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre and Broadway decided to set up the World of Beatrix Potter after his wife and Stage Manager, Charlotte Scott, suggested it. Together, they had already helped set up other visitor attractions around the country. But it is in Bowness where they created their own Attraction.

Roger co-designed the exhibition with Elaine Garrard, and a highly experienced creative team (scenic sculptors, joiners and artists) lovingly created the models and scenes. Elaine’s artistic flair brought a meticulous authenticity to her work creating the animals from the illustrations in Beatrix Potter’s little books. Elaine’s search for authenticity included being truthful to the artist, and because Beatrix Potter painted in watercolour on white paper, she made the models white and then layered the paint and “furred them up”, using a similar approach. The end result is a remarkable testament to the talent of Elaine and her team. The detail is exquisite.

Character sculpture studio workshop

From an old Laundry to a world class Attraction

The Attraction building was originally an old Edwardian laundry, where the hoteliers of Bowness once sent their sheets for washing. Later, it became a storage place for the wooden vessels used on Windermere lake. When Roger and Charlotte bought the building in 1990, it was an old boat store. It took many months of renovation to create a building fit for a world-class exhibition with a cafe and gift shop.

A year later there was still space left in the building, which, with the support of friend and playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn, was transformed into the Old Laundry Theatre, 270 seat auditorium. Alan Ayckbourn has toured one of his plays to the Old Laundry Theatre almost every year since.

Attention to detail

Every year the Attraction is refreshed and in recent years it has had the largest refurbishment in its history. Firstly, all the foliage that dominates the 3D scenes was replaced, and then a newly composed soundtrack was recorded to enhance the visitor experience. Later, the Attraction saw the installation of digital projections of 3D shimmering leaf collages which appear to float up above the existing exhibits adding movement and atmosphere.

Thousands of pieces of trees, bushes, leaves and branches were hand-painted and installed by expert craftsmen. A team of video and sound designers put together the stunning new digital displays which are beautiful works of art themselves as well as assisting visitors to navigate through the self-guided tour of the exhibition.

The exhibition is constantly maintained and enhanced to try and create a balance between Beatrix Potter’s classic drawings and the use of modern technology that is now expected.

Celebrating 30 years

It is the attention to detail that has made the Attraction an integral part of the Lakes tourist experience and has drawn the attention of an international audience. Fans from China, Taiwan, South Korea, India, Japan, Australia, the USA and mainland Europe can walk through Beatrix Potter’s famous Lakeland scenery to meet her loveable characters. Over the last 30 years, the Attraction has expanded to include the Old Laundry Theatre, the Laundrama studio for events, two gift shops, a Cafe and an e-commerce unit. The now-famous Chelsea Flower Show gold medal-winning Peter Rabbit Garden also adds to the mix, growing unusual and traditional heritage vegetables, flowers and fruits from Beatrix Potter’s era – with many sourced by simply looking at the illustrations in her little books and doing the detective work.

 “Beatrix Potter has dominated our lives for the last 30 years (in a good way!). From the day we opened the door, Beatrix Potter has taken us on an exhilarating journey – exhibition, garden, shop, restaurant, online, theatre and ongoing – we couldn’t have aligned our creative and business life with a more original, entrepreneurial and visionary woman. “

Although this year (2021) we had hoped to have our show-stopping theatre production ‘Where is Peter Rabbit’ for its 5th and final year, this has unfortunately not been able to happen due to Covid-19. Where is Peter Rabbit? was seen in London’s West End for two seasons and went on tour to Hong Kong and Singapore. We are delighted to have many puppets from the show on display in our waiting area which are thrilling visitors and providing a perfect photo opportunity. Exciting plans are afoot for next year when a brand new show will premiere in our theatre celebrating 120 years of Peter Rabbit – “Happy Birthday Peter Rabbit” – for more news on our brand new production, watch this space!

With thanks to Lancashire Life for original quotes.