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Best-selling author, merchandise pioneer and champion sheep breeder. Take a bow, Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter Photo: PA

Long before Walt Disney sketched out his first Mickey, or George Lucas began selling plastic figures of Darth Vader, a young woman in Cumbria had already spotted how to cash in on the characters she'd dreamt up.

Beatrix Potter was a woman way ahead of her time, in more ways than one.

Her first book about four little rabbits couldn't find a buyer, so Potter decided to fund publication herself.

A family friend was so impressed, he began touting the book around London publishing houses, and so began Beatrix's rise to fame.

In 1903, Beatrix made and patented a Peter Rabbit doll - something unheard of at the time. A licence she retained, creating a large income. This was followed by board games, painting books, wallpaper and various other items depicting her characters.

By now her books were big business. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester among her best-known successes.

Beatrix diversified into farming, buying Hilltop Farm, and becoming a champion breeder of Herdwick Sheep.

By the time of her death, Beatrix was extremely wealthy. Her love of the Lake District was demonstrated in her will, leaving Hilltop Farm and 15 others she then owned, along with 4,000 acres and her herds of sheep, to the National Trust.

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