This week we broke the news that Hannah Hauxwell’s former farm in Baldersdale is up for sale. Here is the exclusive story of its renovation. Sharon Dale reports.
It’s clear that Hannah Hauxwell never threw anything away while she was living at Low Birk Hatt farm. The documentary films that made the Daleswoman a TV star shows boxes full of stuff that “might come in” piled high around her.
Clearing everything out when she moved was quite a task but her hoarding, born of necessary frugality and a “make do and mend” ethos, yielded an exciting find for the couple who bought Britain’s most famous farmhouse. Up in the loft was an old range that her father had bought second-hand but never fitted.
Hannah agreed to leave it for Robin and Ann Dant when she handed them the keys to the property in 1988. Now it has been rebuilt and is in the dining room complete with flames fired by LPG gas. The room is pretty and cosy and virtually unrecognisable from its previous incarnation as Hannah’s kitchen. Back then, the remote farmhouse in Baldersdale was cold and damp with no running water or heating. Access was on foot down a long and boggy track and she had no phone or electricity, although in her last years at Low Birk Hatt, local factory workers raised money to connect her to the grid.
They were touched by her bravery and her pragmatic, cheery nature in the face of what most viewers saw as extreme adversity. Her father died when she was 10 and then her mother and uncle passed away, leaving her alone at the age of 34. For almost three decades, she tended her cattle in the harshest of weathers, living and sleeping in one room and collecting drinking water from a stream. TV audiences were moved to tears as she braved blizzards wearing ragged clothes to ensure her cows were fed and watered.
The Yorkshire Post was the first to tell her story when in 1970 we ran a feature entitled “How to be happy on £170 a year”. Film-maker Barry Cockcroft followed it with a series of documentaries for YTV, starting in 1973 with “Too Long a Winter” and she became an instant celebrity.
When she decided to sell up at the age of 62, the Dants were looking to move from their cottage, near Yarm, to a property with land. They saw the advert for Low Birk Hatt and went up to see where it was. Hannah invited them in and was very proud of the house, although it was just as it appeared in the films.
“We knew we had found what we had been looking for,” says Ann.
The farmstead is in the old North Riding of Yorkshire, now County Durham, and is part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Alfred Wainwright dubbed it “England’s last wilderness”.
“It is not as isolated as it looks on the films. I would say it is secluded as there are other properties in the dale,” says Robin, a former potato procurement manager for a crisp firm and a gifted DIY’er who did most of the renovation himself at the weekends and during holidays. He and Ann, a retired nurse, finally moved in after almost seven years. They replaced the track with a new road and installed a borehole, septic tank and central heating. They also converted the old dairy and pantry into a utility room, the stable into a kitchen and the loft into a bedroom and office space. A new garden room overlooks the fells, meadows and reservoir and altogether there are five bedrooms and three bathrooms, all with breathtaking views.
The property’s many period features include the old hooks that the Hauxwells used for hanging meat. There are some in the sitting room, which Hannah revealed was “only ever used for funerals and pig killings”. That was in the days before fridges when farmers took it in turn to slaughter and divvy up a pig. Outside, Robin and Ann renovated the outbuildings, planted trees and made a garden overlooking their 15 acres. A new barn houses their small herd of rare Belted Galloway cattle. Over the years they have reared 57 calves from their “Baldersdale Belties”.
Their love for Low Birk Hatt has grown stronger. Ann says: “The countryside is so beautiful and peaceful. There is no traffic noise and no light pollution and when the moon is full, its reflection on the reservoir is a spectacular sight. The promise of spring is announced by the call of the curlew, a sound I will always associate with this place.”
It is a paradise that still holds a lot of potential. The halfway point of the Pennine Way is on the doorstep and the restored barn next to the house and the field barn at the top of the field could make perfect walkers’ accommodation
The Hannah Hauxwell link would attract visitors, although Hannah, now 89, has not seen her beloved farm since retiring to a cottage in a nearby village, preferring to remember the property the way it was. The film “A Winter Too Many” saw Hannah, now 89, bid an emotional farewell to the farm.
“We can fully understand Hannah’s reticence to leave Low Birk Hatt,” says Robin, 71. “It is such a beautiful place but we are leaving for the same reasons she did. We are getting older and it is time to move on.”
* Low Birk Hatt is for sale for offers over £590,000 with Robin Jessop. It has five bedrooms and three bathrooms plus a detached two-storey stone built barn with potential to convert into a holiday cottage. There is also a field barn that could convert into a camping barn. There are other farm buildings plus 15 acres of land and shooting rights. It also has a satellite broadband connection.
Sarah Jessop says: “This is one of the most idyllically situated small farms to come on to the market in some time. Its sale offers an extremely rare opportunity.”
*For details, contact Robin Jessop Tel: 01969 622800, www.robinjessop.co.uk