5 Sep 2009

Hope Bourne by Exmoor National Trust

HOPE BOURNE AND EXMOOR Hope Bourne was born at Hartland in North Devon. She claims to have lost her birth certificate and not to know her age but one can guess that her birth was in 1920. Her mother was headmistress at the village school in Elmscott. Hope left school at the age of 14 and, as an asthmatic and the only child of a widowed mother, she was expected to stay at home. She was in her 30s when her mother died. All income then stopped and the house had to be sold to pay off debts. Hope was left with no home, little money, no income, no qualifications and no training. She decided to become as self sufficient as possible. Hope moved to Exmoor, to a succession of remote and primitive cottages, including one near Nutscale Reservoir. She lived off the land, growing her own vegetables, gathering wood for fuel and shooting for the pot. She earned a small income through helping farming friends by tending stock. In the 1950s and 1960s she claimed to live on £5 per month. She earned about £100 per Annam and saved nearly half. Hope relied heavily on friendships. She would call in at farms when she was out and about, and people would call in and see her. Neighbours, even if they were ten miles away, would always come and help out if there was any trouble. She spent 30 Christmases at Broomstreet Farm, owned in those days by Mary Richards, who was her oldest and best Exmoor friend. In the 1950s she spent a year on a sheep station in New South Wales; in the 1970s she spent three months in Canada with friends. She taught herself to paint and draw and kept a diary from which she wrote and published articles. She sent her first book, written in pencil, to Anthony Dent. He returned it neatly typed and visited in person shortly afterwards. The book, Living on Exmoor, published in 1963, is a month by month diary of her activities and is illustrated by her pen and ink drawings. Her next book, A Little History of Exmoor (1968), was also published by Dent. This is a good account of Exmoor from prehistoric times to the 20th century and concentrates on the history of farming. It is brought to life by her imaginative drawings of farmsteads through the ages. Her third and fourth books, Wild Harvest (1978) and My Moorland Year (1993), have a similar style to her first, being a collection of experiences of farming, local lore, encounters with neighbours and vivid descriptions of the seasons. It is perhaps in the latter that she has her finest, almost poetic writing. From 1970 until the early 1990s she occupied a tiny, old and leaky touring caravan in the burnt out ruins of Ferny Ball Farm above Sherdon Water. There she kept her bantams in the ruins and helped out on neighbouring farms at busy times such as lambing and winter feeding. Getting up at 5am she'd do the farmer's stock, write her journal, and then go for a 20 mile walk with her sketch pad, mapless, guided by an inner compass. She followed the hunt on foot, shot and fished, never washed up, ate 1lb of meat a day, some of which was none too fresh, and drank from a stream. She believes that hunting and farming are the backbone of Exmoor. She wrote a weekly, thousand word column for the local paper, the West Somerset Free Press, which she picked up every Friday, when she went into Withypool to collect her mail and bread. At the same time she would post her next article, handwritten in pencil. The column was always popular and generated considerable correspondence. She also contributed articles and drawings to the Exmoor Review, with an emphasis on local farms and their history. In the 1970s Hope became famous through newspaper articles, then two television documentaries about her and her lifestyle: About Britain: Hope Bourne Alone on Exmoor (1978) and Hope Bourne – Woman of Exmoor (1981). In 1979 Daniel Farson interviewed her for a feature in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. She told him: “I have never taken a penny from public money. Friends tell me I could live better on National Assistance, or whatever they call it now. Over my dead body! Anyway, I’ve never been able to afford the stamps. I’ve told them this would be more than my entire income! It’s a good life but it’s a tough life. You’ve got to be 100% physically fit to live as I do. You’ve got to be tough, body and soul. Whatever happens at Ferny Ball, I’ve got to cope with it alone.” In the Exmoor Oral History Archive she gives a vivid account of how she dealt with accidents and extreme weather at Ferny Ball. In the late 1980s she was eventually persuaded to have a telephone put in for emergencies. Her asthma became worse and concerned friends managed to find her a new house at a community housing scheme in Withypool. Although on the edge of Withypool Common, she finds this like living in a city. She has all modern conveniences but rarely uses the electricity, sleeps on the living room floor in front of the open fire and leaves the rest of the house to her bantams. She is not able to go shooting now and, having sold her guns, gets her meat from the butchers. Hope’s last publication was a booklet about former weights and measures and had no Exmoor connection. She is very concerned about the future of Exmoor, its farming and wildlife. She thinks there is too much 'taming down' of Exmoor by both the National Park Authority and the National Trust, even though both have done good work by preserving large chunks of moorland that otherwise might have gone under the plough. She believes that the wildness of Exmoor teaches self-reliance and that there are too many paths, signs and interpretation boards. People can learn better by finding things out for themselves.

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