Winifred Foley: Author whose 'A Child of the Forest' put the Forest of Dean on the literary map

Winifred Foley, the author who put the Forest of Dean on the literary map, died aged 94 just as her perennial best-seller A Child of the Forest was republished, on its 30th anniversary.

The book, now renamed Full Hearts & Empty Bellies: a 1920s childhood from the Forest of Dean to the streets of London, was originally published in 1974 when Winifred was already 60.

Winnie had begun jotting her childhood memories in exercise books, and sent some of them to the BBC Bristol radio producer Pamela Howe. The scripts became a Woman's Hour serial, their (largely) direct speech form making them much more animated than other rural memoirs. Indeed, her memoirs were so lively that, when the producers arranged for the BBC to publish them as a book, some suggested that Foley could not have written it herself.

"I know from publishing her second book that she was perfectly capable of writing herself," Coleford's Forest Bookshop owner and publisher Doug McLean said. "Like any manuscript it probably benefited from editing, but the talent was all hers." And in her introduction to A Child..., paying tribute to all those who saw her into print, she recognises that, "I cannot claim this book to be 'all my own work'".

Winifred Mason was born in the hamlet of Brierley, near Cinderford, to Charlie and Margaret Mason in 1914, and was known within the family as "Poll". Her father was a miner, mostly self-educated and thoughtful. He was blacklisted by mine owners for his role in the 1920s strikes, so work was hard to come by and the family suffered even greater hardships than the generality of mining families in that decade. He later died in a mining accident in 1945, when Winifred was 30.

The women of the families had to be as tough as the men. Much of Winifred's early narrative concerns her mother's humiliation in cadging from (mostly sympathetic) shopkeepers and tradesmen. Like others, the family depended on their cottage back garden for vegetables and fruit – and pig. Child... is the first impressionistic account of the importance of the pig for winter food in the local domestic economy. The surrounding woodlands also offered wood for the small range providing heat, hot water and cooking.

Foley also captured the unique local dialect and vernacular phraseology. A typical line from her small brother during a hot afternoon walking to Granny and Grancher's cottage through the woods is: "Phew, I be as 'ot as a fresh 'osses turd."

Like other girls, Foley had no prospect of a job within the Forest. With schooling ending at 14, she, like others, went off to work as a maid. Many went to Cheltenham, coming back to their families for their Sunday day off.

Sent to London, Foley was desperately homesick. She was only rescued from this and a similarly gruesome position on a Welsh farm when, in the 1930s, she gained a job as a maid in a women's college.

She also met her future husband, Syd. The two were well-matched; he stolid and she loquacious. They had four children, three sons and a daughter, and returned to a cottage on the fringes of the Forest of Dean after the war.

After the success of Child of the Forest, she followed it with No Pipe Dreams for Father (1977) and Back to the Forest (1981) – and moved to a more capacious residence beneath the local May Hill landmark. A Child having sold an astonishing half a million copies, the trio were published by the Oxford University Press as The Forest Trilogy (1992). A final collection of memories, In and Out of the Forest (1984) also briefly became a best-seller.

After her husband died in 1998, Foley began writing a series of romantic novels. Village Fates (2000) was followed by Prejudice and Pride (2005), To Kill for Love (2006) and, only two years ago, Two Men and a Maiden.

A national newspaper four-part serialisation at the end of March brought her early life and hard times to a wider audience than ever, while Woman's Hour on Radio 4 broadcast a recent interview that had been prepared to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the original publication.

After Syd died in 1998 she lived in a Cheltenham flat near to one of her sons and family. She counted 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren among her progeny.



Winifred Mary Mason, writer: born Brierly, Gloucestershire 25 July 1914; married Syd Foley (died 1998; three sons, one daughter); died Cheltenham 21 March 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
science
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003