Catherine Cookson (without fog) on the Tyne

I’ve just been to Newcastle - one of my favourite northern cities - for a meeting with the Newcastle University archivist.  It’s a beautiful journey over the Pennines, following the line of Hadrian’s Wall and the wild upper reaches of the River Tyne.

The purpose of the journey was to talk about what is going to happen to the manuscripts and research materials accumulated while I was writing the Catherine Cookson biography.  There are letters from friends and colleagues, her publishers, agents, some of Catherine’s own letters, photographs, and tapes of Catherine talking about her controversial life.  I’ve offered these as a gift to the university library, because I believe it’s the most suitable place.  So many valuable literary manuscripts disappear into the basements of American Universities never to be seen again except by intrepid researchers.  I wanted CC’s documents to be available to everyone, catalogued and digitised - in the place she felt most at home - where she belonged - on the banks of the Tyne.

The Tyne bridges on a sunny day (photo Dave Hewer)
Newcastle is a vibrant city, famous for the beautiful bridges over the river - and for the monument to Earl Grey (the aristocrat of tea) on the top of the hill. 

It was erected by grateful citizens (not tea drinkers!) for overseeing the Reform Act through Parliament while he was Prime Minister. 

The streets are buzzing - the shops are a mix of the very posh and very cheap.  There’s a girl playing classical music on a transparent violin at one end of the street 

and a couple having a fight at the other.  They appear to have been thrown out of a pub.  The woman is standing in the street shouting abuse at a bloke on the other pavement - to the entertainment of a gathering crowd.  Every time she yells at him there’s a cheer from the women.

I decided to honour my Newcastle Italian roots by having a glass of wine and a snack lunch at Jamie Oliver’s place.  I had the mushrooms with baked mozzarella and some spinach croquettes.  It’s English Italian food and would have driven any traditional Italian into the kitchen to commit murder!  But the atmosphere was great. 

My Italian great grandmother arrived on Tyneside from Genoa unable to speak a word of English - and then she discovered the weather ....  Poor woman!  It was grey and drizzly today, but at least it wasn’t foggy.  And after talking to the archivist at the university library, I think I’ve found a good home for Catherine Cookson’s papers.  Mission accomplished. 

Catherine Cookson at work - one of the photographs I'm giving to Newcastle University - copyright Neil Ferber


  1. My husband's grandfather left from Genoa to Buenos Aires in the 18880s.

  2. It seems to have been a real exodus at around that time. I wonder why? Perhaps no work, or just a perception that the new world was a place for more opportunity? Would love to know.

  3. There was a world-wide depression in the 1890s, perhaps that caused upheaval?
    We had significant numbers of European refugees (fleeing the chaos of the 1848 revolutions) arriving in Oz for the gold rushes in the 1850s-60s.
    But most of our Italian (and other Mediterranean) immigration occurred post WWII.


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