A STRONG character with a gentle nature is how many will remember Daleswoman Hannah Hauxwell, who has died at the age of 91.

Miss Hauxwell first became known in 1970 when she featured in a newspaper article titled ‘How to be happy on £170 a year’. 

Filmmaker Barry Cockcroft followed it in 1973 with an award-winning documentary for Yorkshire Television (YTV), Too Long A Winter, chronicling the tough working conditions of farmers in the Pennines.

Miss Hauxwell, seen single-handedly managing the remote Low Birk Hat Farm at the top of Baldersdale and living without electricity and running water, became the centre of national attention. 

She had grown up on the farm, but by the age of 34 both her parents and her uncle, who had moved in to help, had died and she was left to cope alone.

The programme was seen by millions of viewers around the world and she became a household name.

Her honest and steely account of a modest life in her beloved Dales won her many admirers who often sent gifts including food parcels and money, yet she always lived a frugal life.

Books and other television appearances followed, including more Cockcroft films charting her trips overseas.

She was a guest at a Buckingham Palace garden party to honour the Queen Mother and was surprised when a London book-signing turned into her episode of the biographical show This is Your Life.

Away from the limelight she always returned to her farm, but at just 78 acres and with no modern agricultural equipment, Low Birk Hat Farm failed to prosper.

In 1988 she retired to a cottage in nearby Cotherstone, near Barnard Castle, which she left in 2016 to spend her final years in residential care.
Slightly eccentric and always affable, she was well known and liked by neighbours.

Keith and Muriel Lamb, who set up Doe Park caravan site, knew her from local events and worshipping at Cotherstone Methodist Church which she attended throughout her life.

Mr Lamb said: “As a person she was quite gentle, she never caused controversy with anyone.

“She was very interested in music, she really enjoyed playing the organ at chapel from time to time.”

Barry Watson, who laid hay bales for her and whose father-in-law went to school with her, said: “She used to come and sit on the seat next to my allotment at the back of the Fox and Hounds to have a bit of a chat, I’d maybe give her a lettuce.

“She was a lovely lady, hardworking, polite and always very grateful. I knew her before TV and she was just the same.”

Durham County councillor Ted Henderson represents Barnard Castle West and lives in Eggleston, three miles from Cotherstone.

He said: “She was a character and when she moved down the dale to Cotherstone was well known.

“What a lovely person she was, she had lots of stories of life up the dale, especially of winters she spent up there.

“She always seemed a really genuinely nice person.

“I didn’t know her on a personal basis, but I did hear she had been ill, such sad news.”

Following Miss Hauxwell’s retirement, Durham Wildlife Trust took over land at Low Birk Hatt and created Hannah’s Meadows Nature Reserve.

Trust director Jim Cokill said: “Hannah managed the grassland in the traditional way, with no artificial fertilisers which preserved the wide range of wildflowers found there. 

“Across the UK 97 per cent of our wildflower meadows have been destroyed since the Second World War and the Wildlife Trust wanted to make sure Hannah’s Meadow didn’t go the same way. 

“We have continued the traditional management and every summer visitors can enjoy the meadow just as Hannah and many generations of farmers before her would have seen it. 

“The meadow is her legacy.” 

In stark contrast to her own old-fashioned way of life, news of her passing led to an outpouring of tributes on social media.

Among them Carol Storey, who also knew of her because of her television appearances and books, wrote: “Remarkable lady, with a heart of gold. You will be sadly missed Hannah.” 

And Liz Tyrrell, who enjoys visiting the nature reserve, said: “Like many people in that I watched the documentary and was moved by Hannah’s stoic acceptance of her life, alone, enduring the hard Teesdale winters. 

“However having walked in the area I can also appreciate and envy her life in the quiet beauty of the area.”