Hannah Hauxwell

In 1980, Peter found a subject which united all his concerns as a painter; wild, desolate hills and moors; simple, dignified buildings; dogs, cats and cows; anecdote and human interest; emotional empathy with a doomed economy and a vanishing way of life; a charismatic heroine whose simple gentility was untouched by the ugliness and jealousies of an increasingly materialistic society. The heroine was Hannah Hauxwell.

This frail, fragile but indomitable stick-farmer in the Northern Dales near Barnard Castle was already becoming a well-known and much-loved figure, due to a television documentary: since her retirement in 1990 she had been catapulted into the national consciousness by the tender ministration of the media. Peter was introduced through Geoffrey Winter, a writer on the Yorkshire Post. On Molly and Peter’s first visit, Hannah saw them coming down the track from the road, and hid from them with her cow and calf in the mistral. She was very wary, for she was already becoming increasingly disturbed, often by the intrusive curiosity of walkers of the Pennine way. She got on very well the Brooks who visited her on a regularly for the next two years and became close to her. Molly usually took a currant cake which Hannah immediately put into a tin so that the rats wouldn’t get at it.

Peter saw pictures everywhere, whenever he visited the farm something happened to give him a new idea. When they arrived she might be perched dramatically on top of the much heap; or she might be breaking ice for the cows to drink. When a cow would become frisky Hannah would chase it. There was always something to paint – Hannah making walking sticks, holding her cat, stroking her dog, pointing to a homemade gate of branches and twine.

Peter loved the stern, bluff, simple but dignified lines of the farmhouse and outbuildings – buildings which sat so securely and naturally in the wild, remote and rugged hills, surrounded by walls, trees, tracks and gullies. Peter painted Hannah and the farm from every angle and every aspect. Winter sun sets with snow laden skies, tinged with a warm orange glow; Hannah trying to get her cow into the mistral, and perhaps Peter’s most famous image of Hannah waving goodbye, a tiny, cheerful central figure dwarfed in an almost lunar immensity of loneliness.

Peter pained over fifty pictures of Hannah and Birk Hatt Farm over the following two years, in a series of paintings which became internationally prized.