Obituary: Margaret Barron; lady farmer helped transform her traditional steading into living history

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Born: 20 May, 1926, in New Deer, Aberdeenshire. Died: 29 June, 2012, in New Deer, aged 86.

WHEN Margaret Barron finally gave up the farm that been in her family for generations it was less the end of an era, more the start of an extraordinary living legacy.

For the old steading, deep in the heart of the Aberdeenshire countryside, that had been her home for half a century, was not only an excellent example of a typical Buchan farm but it stood frozen in time in the 1950s.

And after it came to the attention of a local museum curator – initially interested in acquiring only a piece of old farming equipment – the entire property ended up being bought lock, stock and barrel as a unique piece of history.

The farm building was then transported stone by stone to a new home at the museum several miles away and restored to 1950s mode where Miss Barron would return to enlighten visitors on a bygone way of life that is largely unrecognisable today.

So authentic was the reconstruction that, on re-visiting her old home for the first time, her dog Sparky apparently ran straight to her jacket hanging on a hook, recognising at once its mistress’s old routine.

Miss Barron, who was born in a house in the High Street in the village of New Deer, 25 miles north of Aberdeen, was the daughter of a First World War veteran. Her father, John, a poultry breeder, had been blinded in one eye and badly wounded by shrapnel while serving his country.

And within a few short years her childhood was to be blighted by yet more tragedy. Both her mother and toddler sister died just months apart, the two-year-old killed in an accident involving a fire. After their deaths her widowed father moved with his little daughter, aged only four or five, to a croft at Bonnykelly a few miles away.

Then, in 1935, he bought the nearby farm Hareshowe of Ironside. Margaret was nine and arrived by horse and cart at the farmhouse where three generations of the family would live and work together. There she was cared for by her grandmother and two aunts, Annie and Betty.

The family then settled into the daily routine of farming life with everyone rising at 6:30am to a breakfast of brose. Young Margaret attended New Deer School but once she finished her education there was little or no career path ahead for the girls of the area and so she became part of the working farm, using horsepower in the shape of a fine Clydesdale gelding named Prince.

The 30-acre farm, which included cattle, chickens and turkeys, also produced oats, hay and turnips and supplied the family with vegetables, eggs and dairy products for homemade butter and cheese. It wasn’t an easy life. The whole family had busy days working the land, caring for the animals, cutting crops, milking cows, mucking out and repairing machinery, fences and buildings. And it all had to be done manually. Electricity did not arrive in the area until the mid 1950s.

Though the advent of electricity brought a cooker to replace the open fire and an electric water pump negated the need to toil to and fro to the well with buckets, Miss Barron maintained the slow pace and simple way of farming life, continuing to keep things going after her father became too frail to work.

Meanwhile the farm became a magnet for relatives who would descend from Aberdeen, Inverurie and beyond for the weekends. Cousins joined them for the school holidays from as far away as Kinloss and Kirkintilloch – often getting up to mischief, their antics testing the patience of the lady farmer.

When her father died in 1984 she was left to soldier on alone and did so for a further six years, enlisting the help of many willing relatives and neighbours at busy times.

However, in the late 1980s she had contacted the Aberdeenshire Farming Museum to see if it would be interested in some old equipment. When Andrew Hill, then museum curator, arrived to see the potential donation of an old ox collar, he realised he had discovered a farm where virtually nothing had changed for over half a century.

Excited by the potential it could provide for an open air exhibit at the museum, he garnered the support of the local council and a feasibility study was carried out. Then in 1989, American multi-millionaire Malcolm S Forbes and his sons – the son and grandsons of Forbes magazine founder Bertie Forbes who was born in New Deer, ­donated £10,000 to the project.

Eventually, in a £350,000 project, the museum acquired the whole farm, painstakingly dismantling it and moving it piece by piece from Hareshowe of Ironside to the museum within Aden Country Park, nine miles away at Mintlaw, where it became a living history exhibit.

When Miss Barron was originally asked to consider selling the property she thought those behind the project were “mad”. But over the months they built up a happy working relationship in which she helped document and number every single item on the farm. They included 400 metal files found on a single tool bench and numerous old tea tins dating back to the Boer War, along with the contents of everything from the kitchen and dairy to the byre and barn.

The rebuilt Hareshowe was opened by Miss Barron in 1991 by which time she had moved back to New Deer where she had a bungalow built. Over the last 20 years she had been engrossed in village life, getting involved with local organisations including Meals on Wheels, the sewing club and the Women’s Rural Institute.

Meanwhile, the Hareshowe story was documented in an award-winning film which introduces visitors to the farm before they step back in time in the building. Its title, It’s Mair Like Hame Noo, echoes Miss Barron’s seal of approval on seeing the reconstruction completed.

However, the highlight of her involvement with the project was when she met Prince Charles during a royal visit to Hareshowe of Aden.

“Quite simply, the whole project would never have been possible without Margaret’s involvement in every aspect of it, from recording the objects to telling us about the family history and helping the senior ranger and estate foreman to lay out the garden,” said Andrew Hill.

“She was undoubtedly one of the most gracious and gentle people it’s been my good fortune to meet.”

She is survived by numerous cousins and extended family.