Centenary of the inscrutable Lis Hawkins

The late Elisabeth (Lis) Hawkins, would have been 100 today, 29 October 2017.  She died on 27 April 2011 aged 93.  I knew her for 38 years as a staunch campaigner for Dartmoor.


Oboe by Hustvedt – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3547115

Lis was a proficient musician.  In the 1940s she was first oboe in the Hallé orchestra.  She must have had many a tale to tell of her experiences but, sadly, she was reticent about that period of her life.  This may be because she dropped her career to care for her widowed mother who lived in Dunsford, Devon.  Her father had been a vicar.  She gave up her oboe completely and never returned to it.  It must have been a terrible wrench to relinquish her music, so suddenly and prematurely, but she never complained.

Thick and thin
After her mother died, Lis moved to a cottage in Lustleigh.  She was a close friend of Sylvia Sayer whom she supported through thick and thin, taking part in all the Dartmoor public inquiries with carefully-produced and beautifully-typed evidence.  The many threats to the moor made her furious.

Watern Tor

Watern Tor on north-east Dartmoor

Always very upright and smiling rarely, she gave the impression of being serious, but behind this somewhat daunting appearance lay a wicked sense of humour.  Lis could have us all in stitches with her stories and mimicry.  But she had tough principles and if you displeased her you could be met with a hard stare, known by her friends as ‘a light fuser’.  I suffered her silent opprobrium when I did something of which she disapproved, and she would ignore me for days.  It was a great relief when she forgave me.

Lis served on the committee of the Dartmoor Preservation Association from 1964 to 1998 and could be depended upon to speak and vote in defence of the moor’s wilderness.  She abhored compromisers.

She never let her dependence on public transport stop her from getting about the moor, nor from visiting her scattered friends one of whom lived in Australia.  She also regularly visited her brother Marcus who lived in Botton Village near Danby in North Yorkshire.  They were devoted and he came to stay with her at least once a year.

6 Jun 1975 HHW bracken Hil, Lis, Marcus, SS cropped

Bracken-bashing expedition to the Dartmoor Preservation Association’s High House Waste on south-west Dartmoor. Left to right: Hil Scott (now Marshall), Lis Hawkins, Marcus Hawkins and Sylvia Sayer, 6 June 1975

Lis roamed the moor, especially the north-east quarter, until old age and she loved being alone there—walking miles to connect with the limited buses.  Special spots for her were the Small Brook on the south-west side of Cosdon Beacon, and the Manga Brook, west of Fernworthy Forest.  But she was also pleased to walk with me, and my little white mini enabled her to be more flexible.

Small Brook, 16 Aug 2002

The Small Brook, looking north to Belstone Tor

On 28 June 1976 she and I walked to Cranmere pool, on a boiling day.   She fell into the bog in Jackman’s Bottom and we both laughed a great deal.  She later said that the cool waters of the bog had been her saviour; she had been wondering how to keep going in the heat.

My diary records that on 12 August 1976 we walked from Batworthy (west of Chagford) to Shovel Down, Teignhead Farm, Whitehorse Gate, Whitehorse Hill, the peat pass, and back via Hewlake.  I noted that ‘we discussed music!‘ and I wish I had recorded what exactly we did discuss.  I recall Lis telling me that as I got older I would enjoy chamber music more (true) and that Brahms’s quintets and sextets were rather too orchestral.  She once mentioned a nerve-wracking experience of having to do an oboe solo from the gods in the Albert Hall as an introduction to an orchestral piece, but I cannot remember what the music was.

Lis hated being photographed, consequently I cannot illustrate this with photos of her.  Unless taken by surprise she resolutely turned her back on the camera, as she did in the picture below, on a visit to the tin mine at Bachelor’s Hall, east of Princetown.

14 Feb 1976, Bachelors Hall tin mine cropped

Colin Kilvington (second from right) explains the Bachelors Hall tin mine to (right to left) Lis Hawkins, Guy Sayer and me, 14 Feb 1976

I remember the enigmatic Lis with much affection and gratitude—for her fine defence of Dartmoor, her strong principles and the fun we had together.

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in campaigns, Dartmoor, Music, Obituary, wild country and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Centenary of the inscrutable Lis Hawkins

  1. Gaslight Crime says:

    I remember going to Dartmoor Action Group meetings with her at the National Park, along with Sylvia S. and Barbara MacD. It was so pleasing to see how nervous the park officers were of that formidable trio!

  2. Nicola says:

    Hello, interesting post. I bought a biography of E M Delafield online secondhand and Elisabeth’s name and Lustleigh address are handwritten inside, alongside meticulous lists of all of Delafield’s novels. I was intrigued so googled her name and found your post. I assume it must be the same person and of course Delafield is a local writer. Regards, Nicola

    • Dear Nicola, how wonderful, thank yo so much for telling me. Do you live in Devon? Liz was a very private person and I really knew little about her. I don’t recall her mentioning Delafield, I know she loved Jane Austen. Thank you, I love it when my blog makes these connections! Best wishes

  3. Christina East says:

    I was just thinking of Lis today as I bought her oboe when she retired. It saw me through later years at school and through the RAM and my first few years as a freelancer. Lovely to find her on the internet!

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