The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was the last publishedthough one of the first conceivedof Beatrix Potter's twenty-three illustrated books for children, which appeared from 1902 to 1930; but not, I'm afraid, the bestit doesn't compare with The Tailor of Gloucester. According to a note in the collected edition (1989):
When Beatrix Potter [born 1866] was seventeen she spent a holiday at Ilfracombe [on the north coast of Devon] with her family, where the long flight of steps leading down to the sea gave her an idea for a story. This story was developed in 1901 and 1902, but not fully worked up until shortly before the book was published many years later in 1930 . . . Beatrix had sketched a number of seaside towns for the book pictures while on holiday: "Stymouth" was Sidmouth in Devon, the ships were drawn in Teignmouth Harbour, the high sheds for drying nets came from Hastings in Sussex, and Lyme Regis, Dorset, was the scene of other views.
And according to an information sheet shown at the Mariners Hotel and written by a former owner:
In April 1904 when spending a fortnight at Burley, Silver Street, Lyme Regis, Beatrix Potter wrote'There is a splendid view from this little house, it is at the top of the steep street and has a nice sunny garden. I have been able to sit on the verandah . . . ' Her delight in the quaint old town is shown in the sepia pen-and-ink drawings, which she made at this time. One of these Lyme Regis drawings include[s] The Now Named Mariners Hotel featured in her book for the Tale of Little Pig Robinson'the steep street looking down into the sea, and some of the thatched cottages were at Lyme Regis', she wrote. It is alleged that she came to sit in the garden under the famous 300 year old Tulip tree (which unfortunately had to be cut down in 1994 due to storm damage) and wrote.
From this it is not clear whether "Burley" was the Mariners (also at one time called Morley Cottage), which does not, at least from the front, have a "splendid view", or a different cottage closer to the top of Broad Street. The tulip tree (which indeed, I was told by the present staff, was in the Mariners garden and was cut down by that former owner) was presumably the same species as the tulip tree or tulip poplar or yellow poplar that I used to know well in eastern North America, Liriodendron tulipifera, remarkable for its height and uniquely shaped leaves and magnolia-like flowers.
PICTURE: tuliptree leaf
The drawing said to be of the building now called the Mariners Hotel is the one showing cat Susan with shopping basket on her arm meeting dog Stumpy with a newspaper in his mouth "at the corner of Broad Street". If so, the view is from up Pound Road opposite, with the Dorset Hotel on the right. Unless for artistic licence, most of the details of roof, chimney, window, and door have changed; and Pound Road was no more than an alley. Evidently it coincides with just part of what is now the right-hand sidewalk; this end of the road has been widened leftward from three to sixteen yards.
Beatrix Potter was a finer artist than these little books show; I had (can't seem to find it now) a book of her studies of stairways and other glimpses inside old houses, and of paintings she was commissioned to make of fungi. Her publisher, Norman Warne, proposed marriage to her, but died within a month. She became a farmer and conservationist: with the proceeds from her books she bought land in the Lake District to protect it, and at her death in 1943 she left 4,000 acres and fifteen farms to the nation.