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Mary  Lou was born in 1959 at Bury St Edmunds. In those days fathers were not allowed to be present at the birth, so he had to sleep in the Car Park, but he remembers being in the waiting room and seeing the chart of things that could go wrong out of 1000 live the bottom of the list was “monsters 1:1000!” However this was no monster...this was Mary Lou but still a unique personality !  

Whilst her father was still in the army she lived in Munster in 1961  However her earliest memories were later: being buried alive in Snow in Kilve in 1962 during the great snow storm that hit Somerset that year. She remembers skiing down the slopes near her house on the front of her fathers skis and of her mother running over a duck.

She vaguely remembers living in a house called roodi-dood in Whipsnade in 1963.

On the break up of her parents marriage she found herself living at the Stable Flat in Oare House, in the beautiful Lorna Doone Valley. Here she found real freedom for the first time. Life was full of horseback adventure, rather like Cowboys and Indians. She would often find livestock, especially sheep and lambs,  in the kitchen since her mother (Annabelle) was never worried about domestic things like hygiene. This idyllic life was not to continue because she hated her boarding school (The Hall) and when her Mother remarried they left Oare to live in a rented farm which she found depressing and claustrophobic. Luckily Annabelle and Eric bought Batworthy Farm near Chagford and there started a love affair with this part of Dartmoor, though she did not like it at first. She remembers them finding Batworthy, almost derelict and very run down, but they jumped at it and bought it in a day! 

Moving school to Crediton Comprehensive she found herself at the bottom of the pile in her form, having been one of the brightest at The Hall. However she recovered and got to Leeds University and got a BA in Landscape Architecture in 1980. She was sure she was followed home at least once by the Yorkshire Ripper but did not tell her parents until much later !


At her degree show she presented a hand bound book of her research into Marianne North who her great Grandmother (Julie North) always insisted was a member of the family (this is still being investigated). Marianne`s display of pictures at Kew Gardens and her remarkable life traveling round the world as an elderly single victorian lady, inspired Mary Lou to trace her route through India and photograph the sites of her paintings as they were in 1987.  

Back to Dartmoor she worked on her mothers farm, getting increasingly involved in photography particularly in black and white, printed by herself to bring out the subtle grey tones.

In 1985 she was off to London for three years to attend The London College of Printing where she gained a BA (Hons) in Graphic Design.

Whilst in London,  Mary Lou met Christopher Townshend, who was a policemen just taking his sergeants examinations. He had always wanted to be a Farmer too and when Eric and Annabelle offered them  their farm in Devon, they jumped at the chance> The couple moved  to Devon and got married in Gidleigh Church, with a lovely “gypsy wedding” with both arriving separately on horseback and departing afterwards together back across the moors.

Brennan followed in 1993 and Elinor in  1997

Life proved tough on a hill farm, but the space and freedom of the moors offered a quality of life that appealed to adults and children alike. It was a healthy rural life in a very beautiful part of Devon.

Mary Lou soon found she had to take extra jobs on top of farm work, to eke out a living on the farm and became a gardener, photographer and house manager all at the same time. This situation was accentuated by foot and mouth, the state of farming in the UK, the increased levels of paperwork and the difficulty of getting funding on time from DEFRA.

Unhappily her marriage to Christopher founded and she reverted to her maiden name, probably as an act of independence. Now the load of chores fell mainly on her though her two children have given her fantastic support.  

Mary Lou and Elinor 2005

So what of the future ? “Well, this is a unique place, with a high contrast of seasons, different landscapes and atmosphere. It has history, stone circles and mystery. My vision is to bring some prosperity so we can sustain it and its infrastructure and yes I am doing it for myself and perhaps the children.”

Her Father comments: “I see Mary Lou as a warrior and Boudica would have been proud of her.”  

I asked her how she saw her self at 70 in 20 years time: “I hope I will have developed my creative side...but basically knackered and cranky!”

Notes written November 2008 by her father Jeremy Iles-North
















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