When Hannah Hauxwell’s cottage in Cotherstone came up for sale two-and-a-half years ago it attracted a huge amount of interest and plenty of viewings, thanks in part to the legion of fans who treasure the memory of the world’s most famous Daleswoman.
Hannah had lived in the cottage for almost 30 years after bidding an emotional farewell to Low Birk Hatt, the remote family farm in Baldersdale, which was part of Yorkshire’s old North Riding and now in County Durham. The move “down dale” to the pretty village at the age of 62 was filmed and thousands of viewers tuned in to follow the latest installment of a remarkable story that had captured the nation.
It began when Hannah’s parents and uncle passed away and she was left alone at the age of 34 on a farm with no running water or electricity and barely any income. For almost three decades, she lived in one room of the dilapidated farmhouse while working in all weathers to tend her cattle and gather water from a stream.
The Yorkshire Post was the first to highlight her remarkable existence when in 1970 we ran a feature on Hannah’s life entitled “How to be happy on Cockcroft followed it with a series of documentaries for YTV, starting in 1973 with Too Long a Winter and she became an instant celebrity thanks to her ever-present smile in circumstances many thought unbearable.
Viewers were in tears at the heartbreaking moment when Hannah moved from her farm to the centrally heated cottage in 1988 but she spent some of her happiest years in Cotherstone, which is close to Barnard Castle. In need of renovation, the cottage came up for sale after her death, aged 91, in 2018. Some may call it fate that the buyer was Mark Siswick, who grew up in the village and knew Hannah well.
His transformation of her much-loved home is stunning and there is no doubt that she would be thrilled at him renaming the property Hannah’s Cottage in her honour. “I think she would have loved what I’ve done with it,” says London-based Mark, a headteacher who recently won an MBE for services to education.
“My grandmother knew her well, my dad was her postman and when I was young I used to cycle up to the farm to see her. She also came to the chapel where I played the organ and I’d do odd jobs for her like gardening and moving some of her possessions to a garage she bought as storage. She didn’t like to throw anything away in case it came in handy and I love that. It’s the opposite of what I see in London, which is very much a throwaway society.”
Mark was one of the villagers who appeared on TV when Hannah was the subject of This is your Life and can also be spotted in the YTV documentary Innocent Abroad when he waves her off as she leaves Cotherstone for a European tour. “She was a really lovely lady, very sincere and always really interested in how you were and what you were doing,” says Mark, who bought the cottage two years ago when it was in need of renovation.
Thanks to Covid restrictions and difficulty in sourcing everything he wanted, it has taken two years to complete his goal of launching the house as a luxury Airbnb property. The work by respected builder Andrew Reynolds, who also acted as project manager, included a rear extension which has provided a third bedroom and ensuite.
Painted render was also removed to reveal the original stone exterior, which was then lime-pointed. Beams, stonework and flagged floors have also been exposed, along with two inglenooks and four original fireplaces that were hidden behind plasterboard.
“I think the scale of the work needed put a lot of buyers off but I could see that a lot of original character lay beneath and that’s what I wanted to bring back,” says Mark who is a serial renovator with a flair for design.
Hannah’s Cottage, which dates to the early 1800s, now has a kitchen/dining room, hall, a study, a large sitting room, conservatory, a bathroom and three double bedrooms, one with an en-suite. The colour scheme is a mix of Farrow & Ball’s Downpipe and Lamp Room Gray and no expense has been spared on the super stylish fit-out.
The bespoke wood kitchen units by Andrew Reynolds have white marble tops, the woodburner in the sitting room is from Chesneys, the radiators are cast iron, the velvet sofa in the sitting room is by Swoon and there is a Jenny Lind bed. Lighting is a mix of vintage and industrial style from Dowsing and Reynolds and Industville, while art livens the walls and includes a portrait of Hannah that has pride of place above the sitting room fire.
The property is also packed with gorgeous accessories and fabulous vintage finds, including the huge carpenter’s workbench in the sitting room, now a display table for objets and antique finds.
The final touch is a plaque in honour of Hannah, which reads “Hannah Bayles Tallentire Hauxwell, 1926-2018, Farmer, lived here 1988 - 2018.”. “I thought it was fitting to have one because she really was very special,” says Mark.
You can find Hannah’s cottage, Cotherstone, on www.airbnb.co.uk. The pretty conservation village is close to the Pennine Way.
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