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Review of 'Hannah, The Complete Story' by Hannah Hauxwell with Barry Cockcroft.
I am reviewing the hardback version of the book, published by Random Century Group Ltd. 320 pages, ISBN 0712651144, cover price £17.99.
The book is an omnibus edition featuring two books, 'Seasons of my Life' and 'Daughter of The Dales'.
Back in 1972, Barry Cockcroft was commissioned to produce a series of documentaries for Yorkshire television. The series was called 'The Hard Life' and was to feature Yorkshire folk. A hiker friend of Cockcrofts mentioned to him an elderly lady he had come across in his travels, who lived alone in a remote and desolate part of the Pennine Dales. The lady was called Miss Hannah Hauxwell and she singled handedly managed her family's farm. Cockcroft's friend had stopped to chat with the lady and found her delightfully eccentric and very genteel.
Barry Cockcroft decided to track down this elderly reclusive woman, as he felt she just might be a suitable candidate for his documentary.
A long search eventually led Cockcroft to an isolated and virtually abandoned part of the Pennines. There he found the run down property, Low Birk Hatt Farm. The journey had not been easy as there were no roads leading to the 80 acre farm. There he met Hannah Hauxwell, a white haired woman, dressed in well laundered rags. Her appearance was that of an old lady, but as their conversation revealed, she was a mere 46 years old!
Hannah was living in conditions that shocked Barry Cockcroft, her home had no telephone, no running water, no electricity and was in a state of chronic disrepair. A lifelong hoarder, Hannah lived surrounded by the clutter and discarded belongings of her long dead family. Her only income was the small amount she earned from renting out some of her fields to other farmers, meaning that Hannah survived on £280.00 per year, at a time when the average annual income in the United Kingdom was in the region of £2,270.00!
In spite of her poverty, Hannah's only grumble was that she could not afford to keep a dog, something that she would dearly love to have. Hannah agreed to Cockcroft featuring her in his documentary series, although she was bemused as to why anyone would be remotely interested in an ordinary Daleswoman.
**Seasons Of My Life.**
The first book in this omnibus edition, Seasons Of My Life tells the story of Hannah's life up to and beyond her rise to fame through the television documentary entitled 'Too Long A Winter'. The pages are enhanced by some wonderful photographs of both Hannah and her home.
Born on August 1st 1926, Hannah was an only child. Her father died in 1933 and her mother took over the running of the farm, aided by her father's brother. A succession of great-uncles and grandparents also moved into Low Birk Hatt and Hannah and her mother cared for them all until they died. When Hannah was a child, their region was far more populated, there were several families living close by, a chapel and a school. Hannah's mother died in 1958, leaving Hannah to care for the farm and an uncle.
Since her uncle's death in 1962, Hannah had lived alone and worked the farm single-handed. From the age of 35, she rarely left the farm and went for months at a time, especially during the wintertime, without seeing a soul. Winters in this part of England can be harsh as the documentary team discovered in the course of filming.
Although Hannah claimed that she was somewhat 'slow to catch on' as a school girl, the producers of the documentary discovered that this quietly spoken lady had a remarkable memory and could recall facts, information and events from many years previous, in intricate detail. Her charismatic personality, her lifetime of hard work and poverty drew Hannah into the hearts of the British public and within hours of the documentary being screened, Yorkshire television's switchboards were jammed with callers wanting to know more about Miss Hannah Hauxwell.
Then followed the post! The postman had rarely called at Low Birk Hatt Farm, yet now special deliveries were being laid on to deliver Hannah's unbelievable amount of fan mail, gifts and parcels from all over the world. Some letters were just addressed to 'Hannah, Yorkshire, England', but they still got delivered.
Interest in Hannah and her lifestyle did not wane and over the next 20 years, further documentaries about her were made, books written and Hannah made numerous guest appearances on TV and radio shows. She was invited to the Woman of The Year Awards ceremony, to a Royal garden party and to open businesses and functions. Hannah still could not quite believe why the general public were interested in her and she never lost her gentle humour and shy demeanour.
**Daughter of The Dales**
The second book is a deeper look into Hannah's family history and that of the Dales. It is written in an anecdotal style and is absolutely fascinating. Life for Hannah Hauxwell and her family had never been easy, tragedies and ill health had dogged her family members for generations. As time moved on, more and more people abandoned the Dale and moved away, Hannah's family had stayed
and worked the land.
The book discusses people from Hannah's past and she has provided some beautiful photographs of family, friends and events from various stages of her life. Hannah's stories and accounts of growing up and living in the Dales are almost magical, her recall is amazing and she brings the past well and truly to life in this book.
Hannah Hauxwell remained at Low Birk Hatt Farm, her fame brought her a more prosperous lifestyle, although she always felt uncomfortable accepting the money that came with her fame. Hannah was able to make improvements to Low Birk Hatt Farm and this made her lifestyle a little more comfortable.
Naturally, she wanted to stay in the house that had been her home for so long, but a particularly severe winter made Hannah realise that she was not getting any younger and she made the decision to sell her farm. Hannah found a cottage she liked, bought it and moved in. She found it hard to sort out her numerous possessions, but eventually made the cottage home. This signified the start of a whole new chapter in Hannah Hauxwell's life, she had neighbours, shops, a telephone and other home comforts.
**My Thoughts and Conclusion**
In my opinion, this book is a remarkable insight into the life of a lone female Dales farmer. The hardships endured by Hannah Hauxwell in order to keep her family farm, home and livelihood would have been more usual 100 years earlier. She is a truly inspirational character, she never bemoaned her lot, she simply got on with what needed doing, an example to us all!
Of course, some people might say that Hannah was exploited or that she cashed in on her T.V. fame, I do not believe she was or did. Hannah Hauxwell comes over as a gentle, kind woman and one who took what life dealt her. I recall seeing the documentary as a teenager and to be honest, it meant very little to me at the time.
I was given this book recently by a friend who I regularly swap books with. I thought I recognised the name Hannah Hauxwell, when I saw it on the dust jacket and once I began reading, I was hooked.
I would recommend this book to others, I thoroughly enjoyed it and found Hannah to be a true inspiration and one of Britain's great eccentrics.
For anyone who may be interested, Miss Hannah Hauxwell is still alive and is living quietly in a small Dales village. She will celebrate her 86th birthday this year.
Thank you for reading.
(First published in April 2012)
N.B. My reviews may be found on other sites under the same user name.
Update..here is a link to the original Yorkshire Television documentary that brought Hannah Hauxwell into the public eye.