How Hannah Hauxwell became a national treasure after years of living in extreme poverty

By Nina Steele 

As life stories go, Hannah Hauxwell’s one has to be among some of the most inspiring. She was 46 in January 1973, and living in what can only be described as extreme poverty, when her life changed overnight, thanks to a documentary entitled “Too Long A Winter”, which chronicled the plight of farmers in the Pennines during the harsh winter months. Hannah, who was unmarried and childless, had lived alone since the age of 34. Both her parents, whom she had lived with, had long passed away.

The conditions she lived in were so dire that her farm had no electricity nor running water. Her yearly income was about £280 a year, “at a time when the average annual salary in the UK was £1,339”. Viewers were so moved after watching the documentary that help in the form of money and food kept pouring in soon after. She received help not just from the UK, but also from around the world. She went from total obscurity to a household name overnight.

Hannah’s extraordinary rags to riches story is something many of those who witnessed it being told all these years ago, still remember fondly. That she was able to seize the many opportunities that came her way once she became famous, shows a woman who was not only a survivor but also a savvy businesswoman. Indeed, her new status as a celebrity offered her many opportunities, including a documentary series which saw her travel abroad for the first time. She visited many European cities, including Italy, where she met the Pope. The popularity of the series was such that she did a follow up, this time, travelling to the USA.

That her fame lasted far longer than 15 minutes, shows how much her story captured the public imagination. People just loved everything she stood for. Her resilience in the face of extreme hardship, the love she had for her animals, the fact that she was very well spoken, her generosity of spirit, all these attributes and much more, contributed to making her story not only stand out, but last as long as it did.

After years of putting it off, Hannah finally summoned the courage to leave the farm which had been in her family for many generations. Her move, including the auctioning off of some of her possessions, was captured in another documentary entitled: “A Winter Too Many”. She first moved to a cottage a few miles away, and then later on, into a care home. Her last days were spent in a nursing home, where she passed away on January 31, 2018, aged 91.

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