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Hannah Hauxwell

  • Posted by tim
  • 27 November 2008

Hannah Hauxwell.

Some time ago I stumbled across a lady who came into the publics eye in whilst living a solitary existence in the harsh elemental territory of North Yorkshire. Her residence was without running water, electricity or gas and was known to the few inhabitants of the are as Low Birk Hatt Farm.

Hannah who was born in 1926 had her first appearance in the media with a commisioned feature in the April  6th 1970 Yorkshire Post entitled “how to be happy on £170 a year.”
Her second came three years later when she appeared on the Yorkshire TV funded ITV Documentary entitled “Too Long a Winter” which was produced by Barry Cockroft. The program chronicled the almost unendurable conditions of farmers in the High Pennines in winter where Hannah was resident.

At this time the 46 year old spinster lived and toiled alone in the dilapidated 80 acre farm which she had run by herself since she was 35 following the deaths of her parents and uncle.

With no electricity or running water and struggling to survive on £280 a year, life was a constant battle against poverty and hardship, especially in the harsh Pennine winters where she had to work outside tending her few cattle in ragged clothes in temperatures well below freezing.

It was Hannah’s spirit, her gentleness and humility, that gripped not only a nation but, as the documentary was syndicated, parts of Europe too. So much so that after the documentary was first screened Yorkshire TV's phone line was jammed for three days with viewers wanting to find out more and help her.

Over the next twenty years her life was transformed. A local factory raised money to fund getting electricity to Low Birk Hatt Farm and she continued to receive thousands of letters and generous donations from well-wishers around the world.

Almost two decades after Too Long a Winter, the same TV crew returned to her farm to catch up with Hannah. The second documentary, A Winter Too Many, saw that Hannah had a little more money, which she had invested in a few more cows. The crew followed her to London where she was guest of honour at the 'Women of the Year' Gala.

Out of the spotlight her back-breaking work on the farm continued and each winter became harder for her to endure. With her health and strength slowly failing she had to make a heart-rending decision: to sell her family farm and the animals she adored and move into a warm cottage in a nearby village.

Both programmes about this extraordinary Daleswoman have been put on a single DVD, Hannah Hauxwell's Winter Tales. Barry Cockcroft also took her around Europe and to New York for further documentaries.

In January 2008 she was still living in the village of Cotherstone, less than five miles (8 km) from Low Birk Hatt Farm.

A new book 'Hannah Hauxwell - 80 Years in the Dales' (W.R. Mitchell) is due for publication soon.

A new DVD 'Hannah Hauxwell - An Extraordinary Life' featuring 'Too Long A Winter', 'A Winter Too Many' and 'Innocent Abroad' has been published.

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In March 2007 Paul Jeeves in the Yorkshire Post got this interview with Hannah

EXCLUSIVE: Hannah Hauxwell at 80 talks of her life in village and admits a return visit to isolated farm would be too painful
Her simple life running an isolated Dales farm on her own provided a glimpse into a world that many thought had long past.

With no electricity or gas and the only source of water from a stream, Hannah Hauxwell was the country woman in gumboots and a Harris tweed jacket who found a special place in the hearts of millions.

Almost 35 years since a television documentary gave the world an insight into her life in the Pennines, Hannah Hauxwell has made her home in a village less than five miles away from Low Birk Hat farm.

But for the last 18 years since she moved out of the farmhouse on the edge of the Blackton reservoir in Teesdale her time there remains nothing more than a memory.

Sitting on a rickety chair in the kitchen of her modest semi-detached cottage where she now lives in Cotherstone, Miss Hauxwell admits a return to Low Birk Hat farm would prove too painful.

She said: "I do not ask about it; I do not want to know. It is understandable that some people would want to know what has happened up there and might not be able to keep away.

"They say never is a long time, but I have no plans on going back. The memories and ties are strong, too strong."

As she approaches her 81st birthday, which will fall on Yorkshire Day on August 1, Miss Hauxwell remains unfazed by the fame that came with the documentary, Too Long a Winter, after it was first screened in 1973.

The Yorkshire Television series proved such an inspiration that fans have travelled from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand to meet Miss Hauxwell over the intervening years.

However, she first came to prominence following a Yorkshire Post article on April 6, 1970, which detailed her humble existence under the headline, "How to be happy on £170 a year".

Miss Hauxwell took over the running of the farm at 35 after her parents and then her uncle passed away.

For almost 30 years she worked the farm, which sits 1,000ft above sea level, with a small herd of cattle, enduring harsh winters and relying on the promise of the stunning views across Teesdale to see her through until spring.

She said: "I existed during winter and truly lived during the summer. People always think that I was happy there, but it was not always the best of times. I was not always the happiest person in the world.

"I muddled on and I didn't rely too much on possess-ions; I cut my cloth accord-ing to my needs. But I think I showed a different slant on life, and that's what captured people's imaginations. These days there seems to be such a reliance on material things; it's all about keeping up with Joneses. I do not blame or begrudge people if they want nice things, but these things are not always what they really want."

A fall six years ago when she tripped on flagstones left her with a broken hip, but she continues to live on her own and is able to walk with the aid of two sticks when she ventures outside.

A radio, which was one of her few luxuries up at Low Birk Hat, remains a constant in Miss Hauxwell's life, although she now favours Classic FM instead of the BBC's revamped Radio 2.

She passes her days sewing, listening to the radio and playing the organ, although she admits having to halt her love of reading to preserve her eyesight for embroidery work.

She has a group of close friends, many of whom came to meet her after the docum-entary was screened, and is planning her annual trip to Sedbergh in Cumbria to see the Appleby horse fair.

Miss Hauxwell, who has never married, admits her time in Cotherstone – in County Durham since Yorkshire's boundaries were redrawn in 1974 – has given her a new lease of life. She was only too aware that she could not run Low Birk Hat forever, but she cannot disguise her love of the place almost 20 years after leaving.

She said: "There are advantages now; I have got some good neighbours and the shops are nearer. This is my home and where my body and possessions are, but my heart and soul will always be up on the Dales.

"I have often said I was, still am and always will be a plain country woman, and proud to be a plain country woman."