16 facts about Dame Catherine Cookson on her 110th birthday

Dame Catherine Cookson.
Dame Catherine Cookson.

Today would have been the 110th birthday of one of South Shields' most famous ever residents.

Dame Catherine Cookson was born in the town on June 27, 1906, and went on to become the UK's most widely read novelist with her tales of life in South Tyneside.

Dame Catherine Cookson.

Dame Catherine Cookson.

Here are a few facts about her on the big day:

1. She was born Catherine Ann McMullen - but registered as Catherine Ann Davies - at 5 Leam Lane, in Tyne Dock, and was known as Kate as a child.

2. She later moved to Jarrow, which would become the setting of her novel The Fifteen Streets.

3. Dame Catherine was the illegitimate child of an alcoholic named Kate Fawcett. She grew up thinking her unmarried mother was her sister and was raised by her grandparents Rose and John MucMullen.

4. Her biological father was tracked down by biographer Kathleen Jones who discovered he was a bigamist and gambler named Alexander Davies, and hailed from Lanarkshire.

5. After leaving school at the age of 14, she took a laundry job at Harton Workhouse, in her home town, and in 1929 she moved south to run the laundry at Hastings Workhouse. She saved up to buy a large Victorian house and took in lodgers to help pay for it.

6. She married Hastings Grammar School teacher Tom Cookson in June 1940, at the age of 34, and the couple experienced much heartache as Dame Catherine suffered four miscarriages late in her pregnancies. It was discovered she was suffering from a rare vascular disease that caused anaemia, and she suffered a mental breakdown, taking more than a decade to recover.

7. Dame Catherine first took up writing as a form of therapy to help her deal with her depression.

8. Her first book, Kate Hannigan, was published in 1950, and she went on to write nearly 80 more. Her books were translated into 17 languages and sold more than 100 million copies.

9. Many of her books have been transferred to stage, film and radio. The first film, Jacqueline, based on her novel A Grand Man was released in 1956.

10. Television later latched onto the idea and 18 books were adapted for TV between 1990 and 2001. The first was The Fifteen Streets, starring Sean Bean, which was nominated for an Emmy award in 1990.

11. Mini series The Black Velvet Gown, which regularly attracted audience of over 10 million, won an International Emmy for Best Drama in 1991.

12. The writer was made on Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1985 and was elevated to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1993.

13. She was also given Freedom of the borough of South Tyneside, an honorary degree from the University of Newcastle, named Writer of the Year by the Variety Club of Great Britain and voted Personality of the North East.

14. In later life, Dame Catherine and her husband returned to the North East. In 1989, she suffered two heart attacks and was forced to move to a bungalow in Jesmond.

15. She died at the age of 91 on June 11, 1998, just 16 days before her 92nd birthday. She was survived by Tom for just 17 days.

16. Dame Catherine continued to write novels from her sickbed, and the continued to be published posthumously until 2002.