Woman who set a horse-showing first and danced with Sir Stanley Matthews

Date: Tuesday 22nd May 2018
Mary Ewin showing one of her Clydesdale horses at a time when it was rare for a woman to do so.
Mary Ewin showing one of her Clydesdale horses at a time when it was rare for a woman to do so.

A WOMAN who lived to farm and who had a tremendous work ethic, Mary Isabel Ewin, has died, aged 94.

Mary was the daughter of Johnathan and Margaret Hannah Harrison, who had just moved to a farm worker’s cottage near Langholm from a farm in Wigton when she was born.

She had one brother, John Bell Harrison, who was 10 years her senior. He went into the grocery trade after school and settled in Kirkcudbright, Scotland.

Mary went to school in Langholm and from the age of five used to walk the two-mile stretch to school alone, carrying with her a jam sandwich and a bottle of cold tea.

In 1933, her parents moved to Anchor Farm, Penrith, where they had a mixed farm and milk business. From the age of nine, Mary walked around Penrith with a small milk churn and gill measure, knocking on doors and selling milk to customers.

She left school at the age of 14 and wanted to do only one thing — farm with her parents. She used to work, show and sell Clydesdale horses and could often be seen ploughing the fields around the family farm with her pair of Clydesdales.

She was the first woman to show a horse at the Penrith stallion show.

Despite not having much time for hobbies, Mary particularly enjoyed old-time dancing, a pastime she had picked up from her father, and the pair would regularly go dancing together. It was while taking part in this hobby that she met and danced with England footballer Sir Stanley Matthews.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Mary’s brother joined the Royal Engineers in the bomb disposal unit. She had asked him to bring her a bomb when he was next home, so when he was next on leave, he brought her, with special permission, a 50kg armour piercing bomb and made a carrier for it out of hessian.

He brought it on the train from Kent and carried it all the way from Penrith rail station back to the farm. Six weeks before the end of the war, John was killed.

When she was 23, Mary’s father retired due to ill health, so the family moved to Carleton Road, Penrith. She worked at the Milk Marketing Board laboratory in Aspatria, but missed farm life.

Shortly after, she became a housekeeper for the Holliday family at Clifton Hall Farm, Clifton, where she stayed for five years until her marriage. She maintained a lifelong friendship with the Holliday family.

Mary met her future husband, John Bellas Ewin, who farmed at Abbott Lodge, Melkinthorpe, while she was working at Clifton. They married on 19th January, 1952, exactly a year after they started courting.

They began married life at Eamont Bridge, which is where their two daughters, Jean Bailey, of Coupland Beck, and Janet Newhouse, of Giggleswick, were born.

The family got the tenancy of Maulds Meaburn Hall, a farm on the Lowther Estate, in 1960. Mary transformed it into a beautiful home and the Earl of Lonsdale would often drop by, along with his television and film star friends of the day.

Mary took an active role in the community and regularly attended church, and was on the parochial church council. She was a warden for Crosby Ravensworth church, a governor of Appleby Grammar School and a member of Penrith show committee, while also helping with Crosby Ravensworth show.

Shortly after the move to Meaburn Hall, John’s father died at Abbott Lodge, so John and Mary had his farm and business to deal with.

They bought High Haberwain from John’s sister and in 1967 took on Armitstead Hall, North Yorkshire, which had been owned by John’s family since 1919, but tenanted out.

For the next 30 years they farmed in Cumbria and North Yorkshire, with machinery and staff moving between the two when needed.

Mary was the driving force and would have farmed all of England if she could. Sadly, John’s deteriorating health got the better of them in 1989 and they gave up the tenancy of Meaburn Hall and moved to Armitstead Hall, where they carried on farming at a smaller scale.

After John had a stroke in 1991, Mary continued to farm with her daughter, Janet, until 1996.

John died in 1999 and Mary carried on living at Armitstead until 2005 when she decided to move into a bungalow at Appleby, where she made many new friends.

At her funeral her coffin was taken to church by her godson, Fred Harrison, in a horse-drawn hearse, pulled by two black Welsh cobs.

Mary is survived by her daughters, Jean and Janet, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.