Many people will have read or seen the television adaptations to one or more of the 80 or so Catherine Cookson novels and perhaps recognise the term 'Cookson Country' a tourist trademark of the Tyneside community. But with the death of Dame Catherine Cookson on June 11th, 1998 aged 91 and shortly followed by the death of her husband Tom Cookson, on June 30th 1998, aged 85 it will be interesting to local people to discover Tom's links with Grays.
Tom Henry Cookson was born on August 25th, 1912 at South Woodford, Essex. It appears that Tom's father was a verger and the Cookson family moved to Grays around 1915 and were living in Quarry Hill Road. Sadly Tom's father died soon after arriving at Grays, his mother Mabel was to re-marry later on around 1920, to Percy Gusterson and they moved to live in Hampden Road, Grays, with his brother and half sisters. Tom's primary education was at Quarry Hill School, which at that time was positioned behind the old Grays Police Station. He sang in both the school and Grays Parish Church choir with his older brother, Jack.
At Palmers Boys School
In 1923 he entered Palmer's Endowed School, then situated on the corner of Southend Road and Chadwell Road, having won a County Junior Scholarship The Palmer's School year books record his attendance from 1923 to 1932. He placed was in Butler House, who had a violet coloured patch on their caps.
In his last year at Palmer's he made was Butler House Captain under the guidance of House Master Mr. Benson. Tom was involved in other school activities, achieving the rank of B.Q.M.S in the school Cadet Force in 1931-1932. He was also an accomplished sportsman playing football for his House, winning the House colours from 1927 to 1932, the school football colours from 1930 to 1932 and being Captain of the School XII from 1930 to 1932. He also played cricket for Butler House, winning the colours from 1928 to 1932 and school cricket colours from 1931 to 1932.
While at Palmers he obtained the Cambridge Senior School Certificate in 1927 and the London General School certificate (with Honours and Distinction in Mathematics) and the London Higher School Certificate in 1930 and 1931. He completed his academic life at Palmer's by winning not only the Essex Major Scholarship but also the Justinian Bracegirdle Exhibition in Mathematics to St. Catherine's, Oxford.
Tom left Palmer's in 1932 to read Mathematics at St. Catherine's College, Oxford; on graduation in 1936 he gained a teaching post in Hastings Grammar School for Boys. It was here he found lodgings in a large house owned and run by Katie Fawcett, as she was known then, mother of Catherine. They met after a quarrel when Catherine's mother moved out and took in her own lodgers an on the way to a fencing lesson she called on her mother, who introduced her to her new lodger, Tom Cookson. Within a short while they were courting and four years later married in 1940 at Grays. After they married they purchased a house called The Hurst, which was in Hoadswood Road, Hastings.
Tom served during the war in the R.A.F and then returned to Hastings Grammar School to take up his teaching position, where later he became Head of the Maths Department, staying there until retirement in 1969. Many pupils have recorded their thanks to Tom, for he installed a strong belief in "one's self" and he reminded them of the privileged position the boys found themselves in at school and beyond in their individual careers and service to community. Family friends describe Tom as a kind and loving person.
Tom and Catherine moved to "Loreto" in St. Helens Park Road, Hastings around 1955/6 and stayed there until 1976 when Tom persuaded his wife to move back to Northumberland with their fine collection of antique furniture. They settled in the village of Corbridge in order to relieve them of the constant travelling involved with researching for Catherine's novels of that area.
It appears that Catherine and Tom maintained their links with Grays through correspondence and occasional visits to the family living in Grays. Many people have called in to the Museum's request for information about Tom Cookson's link with the area and this has helped to produce this fact file and we thank them for the help in making some small note of the "Cookson's" Grays connection.
- The Times, Obituary, June 30th 1998 and many local contacts;
- Old Palmerian, September 1998;
- Special thanks to Jean Dyson and Patricia Roe from Australia for additional information.