A Berwick housewife who became a renowned international author brought images of the Borders to millions of people across the world who read her books.
Anne Hepple’s first novel Jemima Rides in 1928 led to her appointment as the editor of the London Women’s Magazine from 1931 to 1934. Her name was prominent on the front cover and her later novels first appeared in serial form in the magazine in which she wrote the agony aunt column.
She went on to write 27 novels before her death in 1959 and world wide sales of her books were in the millions.
Anne Hepple Batty was born at Whinnycrook, Widdrington, near Morpeth in Northumberland, on October 16, 1877. Eighteen months later, her mother died and she was sent to live with her paternal grandparents on a farm, where she developed her lifelong interest in nature and the Borders country together with the down-to-earth philosophy of farm folk.
Her father remarried twice while Anne was a child and the family relocated to Berwick. After an illness, the doctors recommended a spell abroad and Anne was sent to a finishing school in Germany, then lived in London where her early interest in literature and writing continued and she continued writing poetry and earned money from articles in Country Life.
She returned to live in Berwick for a continuing romance with Bill Dickinson, who had a boot shop across the street from the town hall. Both families were against the marriage - her father was a prominent member of Berwick society and Bill was a poor cobbler - but love triumphed and the couple were married in 1903.
After her children Hepple and Bain were grown, Anne resumed her writing career but her short stories were not accepted for publication. Undeterred, she decided to write a novel - Jemima Rides - which was accepted for publication immediately and Anne earned the sum of £25, which was spent on a grand tour of Switzerland for Anne and Hepple.
She became an ardent suffragette and took part in demonstrations in Berwick in support of the cause.
Publication of her first novel brought the offer to be editor of Women’s Magazine in 1931, one of the few national publications for women at the time.
Anne Hepple continued the prolific output of romantic novels set in the Borders and when husband Bill Dickinson retired the family moved to Broadmeadows, near the Chain Bridge before buying a house in Allanton overlooking the junction of the Whiteadder and Blackadder Rivers.
In 1939, the Second World War brought hardship to the country and my mother got a job as house maid for the Dickinsons. We lived with the family in Allanton during the week and I used to play under the table while Anne Hepple was writing.
In 1946, tired of the relative isolation of country life, the Dickinson’s moved to St Aidans in Spittal and my mother and I moved with the family.
In 2018, we celebrated the life of Scottish novelist Muriel Spark (1918 - 2006), whose life is held as an example of the role of women in society. In her day, Anne Hepple was just as well known - her words bringing mental images of the Scottish Borders to people around the world.
When she died in 1959, there was an unfinished manuscript which was used by Hepple Dickinson when she penned ‘A Daughter’s Memories’. A tribute to her mother which gives a fascinating insight into the life of a child growing up in an upper class Victorian household.