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Dame Catherine Cookson DBE (1906-1998) was best known for her romantic and historical novels set in her native North East, the enormous popularity of which enabled her to stay at the top of the library lending lists even after her death.


Catherine Cookson did not have the conventional background of so many writers featured on this website of a solid education followed by university: the child of an alcoholic mother, and raised by her grandparents, she left school at 13, and went into service. In 1929 she travelled south to Hastings to work in the laundry service in the Work House there. After determined saving, she managed to buy a house which she ran as a lodging house. She married in 1934, but after several miscarriages, had a breakdown. She started to write to try and recover from her depression, and published her first novel, Kate Hannigan, in 1950. She went on to write over 100 books, including 11 for children, some of which featured animals. Two of her books, Joe and the Gladiator, and The Nipper, again set in her beloved North East, feature horses and ponies. Joe and the Gladiator was made into a television series by the BBC. She also wrote the Hamilton series for adults, which featured an imaginary horse.


Finding the books: hardback firsts are trickier to find than the paperback reprints, but are not impossible.


Links and sources

Catherine Cookson on Wikipedia

Public Libraries’ Most Borrowed 2001-2002

Joe and the Gladiator

A fansite on Catherine Cookson

Many thanks to Dawn Harrison for the photograph of The Nipper.

Catherine Cookson


Bibliography - pony books only

Joe and the Gladiator

Macdonald, London, 1968, illus Gillian Shanks. 155 pp.

Reprinted Macmillan, London 1978

Puffin, pb, 1971, cover, still from TV series,  155 pp. (left)

Puffin, pb, 1980, cover Martin Reiner, 155 pp. (right)


“Life was not always easy for Joe in his Tyneside home, but suddenly
everything changed when he met Mr Prodhurst, the rag-and-bone man, and got
to know his gaunt, intelligent old horse, the Gladiator.”



The Nipper
Macdonald & Co, 1970, illus Tessa Jordan, 166 pp.

Bobbs Merrill, Indianapolis, 1970, illus Tessa Jordan, 171 pp.
Puffin, pb, 1973.  Cover David Carl Forbes, illus Tessa Jordan

Corgi, pb, 1984, 189 pp.


Set in the early 1800s in North East England, this is the story of a boy’s love
for a runt pony. The boy’s world collapses when he starts working in the mines.