POPPY HARRIS, among the last of the great pub landladies, has died after a long illness. She was 72, kept the Half Moon in Barton for the past 38 years and the Havelock in Darlington – for ever the Round House – for 13 years before that.

Beneath the simple headline “Poppy’s day” a column reported in 2011 on her 30th anniversary at the Half Moon, alongside the old A1 between Darlington and Scotch Corner.

“So many landladies today give you the impression that they’re doing you a favour just by serving you,” she said. “It’s the customer who’s doing you the favour.”

In November 2016 we went back to the Half Moon – by no means for the only time – to toast her 70th birthday. An elderly weekly card school was leaving as we arrived, clutching little bags of medication lest things get a bit over-excitable.

It was a proper pub with proper people and a proper, a perfect, landlady. The customers were her friends. Poppy’s funeral will be held at St Cuthbert’s church, Barton, at noon on Monday.

Local councillor Campbell Dawson, a Half Moon regular throughout Poppy’s tenure – “and a few times in the Round House before that” – talks of a smiling landlady who treated everyone equally.

“She didn’t just serve customers, she looked after them. You don’t really get that nowadays. She’d been ill for a long time but a lot of people can still hardly believe they’ll never again see Poppy behind that bar. I never wanted to go anywhere else but it’s hard to see how the pub can ever be the same.”

She was born on Albert Hill, Darlington, where her mother kept the fish shop for 50 years, and was christened Frances. Since her mother and grandmother were also called Frances, she answered to Poppy. “I was even Poppy at school,” she recalled. “If the teacher called me Frances, I knew I’d done something wrong.”

She was 16 when she met Joe Harris, 17 when she married him – Joseph Stalin Harris it said above the door of the Round House after they took over when she was 22.

Joe’s father had been a Communist sympathiser, wrote to the Kremlin to report his new son’s name, was delighted to get a letter in reply. “The funny thing,” said Poppy,” was that Joe was never that way out.”

When Joe died in November 1996, regulars and villagers raised £2,000 in two weeks for Newcastle General Hospital.

The Half Moon became one of few village pubs not to serve food – save for Poppy’s celebrated soup on the occasion of the annual leek show – though it had for the first ten years.

“I was just sitting there one night and thought it wasn’t what pubs should be about,” said Poppy. “You’d be amazed how many people would say how nice it was to be in a pub which didn’t smell of vinegar.”

As with food, there was also not a ha’porth of trouble. “If there were any problems I’d still be straight over,” said Poppy.

“You can sense it. I always say that they can be the nicest people in the world but you have to remember that what you’re selling changes behaviour.”

She seldom took a holiday, never more than a few days at the LVA conference – “ I didn’t much attend the conference but that was my excuse. I believed that the landlady’s place should be looking after the bar.”

Who’ll look after it now, and whether the pub will ever be the same, is a cause for considerable concern. A village collection will subscribe a memorial bench outside her beloved Half Moon.