Ratty's back garden up for sale

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The Independent Online
GENERATIONS OF children have grown up with the adventures of Ratty, Mole and Badger in The Wind in the Willows, but the familiar line drawings of the characters owe their existence to a cottage in Berkshire, which has just gone up for sale.

Church Cottage, in Pangbourne, is where Kenneth Grahame lived for eight years until his death in 1932. It is also where the author envisaged his characters messing about in boats on the nearby river Thames.

Grahame actually wrote The Wind in the Willows while living downriver at Cookham Dean. But when it was published, in 1908, he was unhappy with the original drawings and came to the conclusion that it was a book that could not be illustrated.

In 1931, the publishers Methuen, asked EH Shepard, already famous for his depictions of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, to try and produce something suitable, and he went to Pangbourne to visit the author.

In an account of the visit, Shepard wrote how Grahame had imagined his creations' homes near the cottage and said: "I love these little people, be kind to them."

"He told me of the river nearby, of the meadows where Mole broke ground that spring morning, of the banks where Rat had his house, of the pools where Otter hid and of the Wild Wood way up on the hill above the river, a fearsome place but for the sanctuary of Badger's home and Toad Hall."

Shepard went out with his sketch pad and drew the real places that Grahame had pointed out and added his own inspiration. The author was enchanted by the subsequent pictures.

Four years after Grahame's death, his widow Elspeth wrote to Arthur Rackham who had been asked to illustrate an early edition of the book but was too busy. Mrs Grahame offered to show him the special areas of the river "that might be connected with Toad, Mole and company", and he too produced a set of illustrations.

Roger White, the owner of Church Cottage - which is expected to sell for pounds 425,000 - said he had recognised the Wild Wood and the river bank from drawings in his strolls around the village.

"Shepard never mentioned the exact places which inspired him but you can see them when you walk around," he said.

"When Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows he was drawing on a wide experience of many places but when he moved to Pangbourne he appears to have associated these images of the book with areas around the village.

"And this is the place he chose to return to in the final years of his life."