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Popular British writer, Catherine Cookson (1906-1998), was in kinship care as a child. Catherine Cookson was born Catherine Ann Davies into poverty to Alexander Davies and Catherine Fawcett in Jarrow, a town in north-east England on the River Tyne and then part of County Durham.

Nineteen-year-old Catherine Fawcett, or Kate as she was known, was unmarried but claimed marital status on her baby’s birth certificate so that the child would not have to suffer the indignity of being a ‘bastard’.

Catherine Cookson never knew her father and until she was seven she thought her maternal grandparents were her parents.

Kate went back to work [for a baker] as soon as possible after Catherine’s birth, leaving the baby to be cared for by her mother. This was no easy task. Rose was in her fifties, worn out by hard work and disappointment, suffering from ‘women’s complaints’ and a heart condition. The energy required to look after a small and lively child drained her last reserves. (Jones p. 23).

Kate visited home fortnightly for six years and when her mother’s health deteriorated badly, she returned home to look after her parents as well as her brother and daughter.

Catherine left school early, around thirteen, and worked in domestic service for neighbours. Five years later she went to work at the Harton Workhouse Laundry.

By the time she was in her early thirties Catherine owned a large property in Hastings, a coastal town south of London and more than 540 km away from Jarrow. She had worked her way up to management level in various workhouses and she had decided to marry Tom Cookson, a teacher seven years her junior.

After three miscarriages and a stint in a mental asylum, Catherine Cookson began writing, having some success with a script she produced for the BBC and a story she read for the Hastings Writers’ Circle.

Catherine Cookson published her first novel, Kate Hannigan, in 1950. She went on to write almost one hundred books, including books for children and two autobiographies. Her novels were translated into seventeen languages and sold in around thirty countries. Some stories were adapted for television, others for radio, film, and stage.

Catherine Cookson was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 1985, and made a Dame of the British Empire in 1993.


Jones, Kathleen. Catherine Cookson. The Biography. Milsons Point, NSW: Bantam, 1999.

Image available here.