Ever since the discovery of Hannah Hauxwell in a Yorkshire Post article in April 1970 to even greater notoriety caused by an ITV documentary, she has become a national legend that has captured the minds of millions of people by showing great strength and determination through conditions some would argue to be abhorrent.
Who was Hannah Hauxwell?
Hannah Hauxwell was a British farmer who was born on the 1 August 1926 in Baldersdale, North Riding of Yorkshire, England. Ever since she was born, she worked on the Low Birk Hatt Farm, which was her family home, but after she turned 35 years old in 1961, she had to work on the farm alone as both of her parents and her uncle passed away.
She first came to public attention A Yorkshire Post article published in April 1970 chronicled the daily life of Hauxwell. But the real attention was brought to her after being covered in an ITV documentary, Too Long a Winter, made by Yorkshire Television and produced by Barry Cockcroft in 1972, which chronicled the almost unendurable conditions Hauxwell had to live through in the High Pennines in winter.
What sort of conditions was she living in?
When Yorkshire TV made the documentary there was no electricity or running water for Hannah and she was also struggling to survive on £240 to £280 a year (approximately equivalent to £4,000 nowadays). This was much lower than the average annual salary in the UK at the time. It was not surprising that life was a constant battle against poverty and hardship for Hauxwell, especially in the harsh Pennine winters, when she had to work outside tending her few cattle in ragged clothes in temperatures well below freezing.
After the documentary was first shown, Yorkshire TV’s phone line was jammed for three days with viewers wanting to find out more about her and to aid her. ITV themselves also received hundreds of phone calls and mail containing gifts and money for “the old lady in the Yorkshire Dales.” Even a local factory was touched by the documentary and raised money to fund getting electricity to Low Birk Hatt Farm.
Hannah Hauxwell sells the farm
After almost two decades after the airing of Too Long a Winter documentary, it was decided that the original camera crew should return to the Low Birk Hatt Farm and catch up on what Hauxwell has been up to. This took the shape of a second documentary called A Winter Too Many that aired in 1989. It saw that Hauxwell had more money, of which she invested it into more cows. In the previous year she was then a guest of honour at the Women of the Year gala.
Then in December 1988, due to her health and strength failing she was forced to sell her family farm along with the animals she loved. She moved into a cottage in the village of Cotherstone.
It has been said when bought the retirement cottage, she was very pleased with the indoor bathroom and central heating. However, it appears that some habits are hard to get rid of as she admitted that she never used the washing machine.
What is her legacy?
One of her legacies is Hannah’s Meadow, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest reclaimed from land that was once part of her 80-acre farm. This emerged because Hauxwell deployed traditional farming methods, and as a result the meadow is one of the best-preserved in the Pennines. She never re-seeded the fields or used artificial fertilisers, and today rare species of flower flourish.
The Durham Wildlife Trust currently manage the meadow, after they purchased in 1989, and an outbuilding was converted into an unmanned visitor centre.
This weekend there is an exhibition at Brancepeth Castle entitled The Life and Times of Hannah Hauxwell.