When the world’s most famous Daleswoman sold her farm, it’s fair to say it was in need of modernisation.
Hannah Hauxwell’s much-loved home was cold and damp with no running water and a hole in the roof where the rain and wind blew in. Her spartan existence and isolation shocked millions of viewers who followed her remarkable way of life through a series of YTV documentaries.
Now, for the first time, they can see what the property has become after a sensitive renovation by Robin and Ann Dant, who bought Low Birk Hatt from Hannah in 1988.
The smallholding, which comes with the house, two stone barns, outbuildings and 15 acres is for sale through Robin Jessop with a guide price of £590,000. The Dants are reluctantly downsizing from the remote rural idyll in Baldersdale just as Hannah did 28 years ago.
The film “A Winter Too Many” saw the 62-year-old farmer bid an emotional farewell to the farm that had been in her family for generations. 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, collecting drinking water from a stream with just an old stove for heat. Yet she remained pragmatic and cheerful.
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 documentary for YTV in 1973, “Too Long a Winter” and she became an instant star. Subsequent films, books and DVDs about Hannah Hauxwell were bestsellers worldwide.
Her softly-spoken, often comical observations, delighted viewers, who were brought to tears as she braved blizzards and ice wearing ragged clothes to ensure her cows were fed and watered.
She has not seen her beloved family farm since retiring to a cottage in a nearby village, preferring to remember the property the way it was.
“We have invited her up and told her about the sale but she is content with her memories and we respect that,” said Ann.
Hannah, now 89, would be amazed at the transformation that has preserved the property’s character while restoring and extending it to create a cosy home with five bedrooms and three bathrooms.
“We saw the advert for it and just went up just to see where it was. Hannah came out of the cowshed and invited us in. She was very proud of the house, although it was just as it appeared in the films. We could see the potential and it offered us the tranquillity and the views we wanted,” said Robin.
While the farmhouse appears isolated in the films, it is part of a community. Hidden away in Yorkshire’s old North Riding, now part of County Durham, the nearest shop is five miles away but there are other homes in the dale. The halfway point of the Pennine Way is just outside the farmhouse gate.
“We can fully understand Hannah’s reticence to leave Low Birk Hatt,” says Robin, 72. “It is such a beautiful place but we are selling for the same reasons she did. We are getting older and it is time to move on.”
*For the full story on Low Birk Hatt see this Saturday’s Yorkshire Post Property Post. For details of the sale visit www.robinjessop.co.uk
*Hannah Hauxwell became a celebrity in the 1970s. Her home had no running water, electricity, central heating or telephone, although the first TV documentary about her prompted local factory workers to fundraise enough to connect part of Low Birk Hatt to the grid.
Her way of life caused a sensation, which prompted film-maker Barry Cockcroft to take Hannah on tour to America and Europe. Now, 89, she retains her sharp intelligence. After a Buckingham Place garden party, she declared: “There were little pancakes and tiny cakes, which, for the occasion, I suppose was quite nice, but if you’d been doing half a hard day’s work, it would have left quite a gap.”
*Here are some more of Hannah’s observations:
“There’s a lot to be grateful for, good friends and good neighbours.”
”Don’t be daft, I’m just a plain Daleswoman. I’m just as I am. I don’t think of myself as anything special – if I did, I’m sure someone would give me a good shaking.”
”In summer I live in winter I exist.”
”Once, I went for a whole three weeks without seeing anybody and another time, for two and a half weeks. Of course, I missed people.”
Whenn she got her first washing machine: “I don’t know if it works, because I’ve never tried it. I do it by hand. It’s not one of my favourite jobs, but that’s how I’ve always done it.”
“It would have been nice to have a bit more money, but I’ve always cut according to my cloth,”
When talking of what kept her at Low Birk Hatt Farm: “Attachment because my family lived here, the lovely countryside, it’s a lovely walk and I have no money in my pocket no one can rob me of it.”