MORRIS, Katharine (1910 - 1999) [of Bleasby]

Photo:Katharine Morris in 1958 (1)

Katharine Morris in 1958 (1)

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'MORRIS, Katharine (1910 - 1999) [of Bleasby]' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'MORRIS, Katharine (1910 - 1999) [of Bleasby]' page

Writer of "gentle tales of rural England"

By Jenny Campbell

Katharine (also known as Mollie) Morris, the daughter of Robert Ernest Morris, a lace manufacturer, and Katherine Dymock,(2)   was born in Nottingham on 22nd May 1910.(3)  On 2 April 1911, the date of the census, she was living with her parents at 22 Albert Grove, Nottingham.(4) A brother, Robert, was born in 1912.(5)

 According to the electoral rolls, the family moved from Nottingham to Bleasby, a small Nottinghamshire village, at some point between 1914 and 1920. In Katharine’s obituary in The Guardian, 20 September 1999, it is said that her mother persuaded her father to buy a house in the country, where the family could remain for their lifetime.

 The Nottingham lace trade began to decline during WW1 and as a result the family income was reduced, so Katharine’s mother looked for other ways to augment their financial resources. She began to write stories for children’s papers and also encouraged her daughter to write, thus the nine year old Katharine had her first story published in Tiger Tim’s Weekly. (6)

 She continued to write but her first novel was rejected, and in 1931 she met by chance in a café in Bloomsbury, London, Lionel Britton 1887-1971, a British working class author of several plays. He had only one novel published, Hunger and Love with a five page introduction by Bertrand Russell. His book was still in its unpublished form at the time of their meeting and Katharine was thrilled to hold the manuscript. She had been upset by the disparaging reaction of her publisher, David Garnett, to her book and asked Britton to look over the manuscript and see what he thought of it. At a meeting later the same week, he advised her ‘that each character should speak with his or her own individual voice, and that she should write about the village where she lived’. She took his advice and a couple of years later in 1933, her first book New Harrowing was published by Methuen and she dedicated it to Britton in recognition of his help. It was received with some acclaim both in the UK and the United States.(7)

 During her meeting with Lionel Britton, he signed for her a copy of his book Hunger and Love, see picture opposite.

 She continued to write and published a number of books based in the countryside including:

The Vixen's Cub (London: Macdonald, 1951)

Country Dance (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1953)                                           

The House by the Water (London: Macdonald, 1957)

 An article by J.H.C. Laker appeared in the Newark Herald on 29 June 1957 and said the following:

“Another new book by a Bleasby writer – a novelist – is ‘The House By The Water’ by Katherine Morris (Macdonald 10s. 6d.). A circle of white tents under a blue sky; a constantly moving throng of spectators; animals; brightly painted machinery; the first agricultural show to be held in the district since the war. Ned Branston wins the sheep-shearing contest, watched by a crowd that includes his near neighbour, Caroline Howard. Between these two lie years of differences, besides those of wartime when both were exiles from the life of the country; years that Caroline is challenged to re-assess in this novel of ”The House By The Water.” This book is a deeply satisfying novel of life in the English countryside, set as was her previous novel, “Country Dance,” in Nottinghamshire.”(8)


The Long Meadow (London: Macdonald, 1958)


 During the 1930s Katharine became a member of International PEN, a worldwide association of writers which was founded in London in 1921 to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere. Other goals included emphasising the role of literature in the development of mutual understanding and world culture; fighting for freedom of expression and acting as a powerful voice on behalf of writers harassed, imprisoned and sometimes killed for their views. PEN originally stood for ‘Poets, Essayists and Novelists’ but now includes writers of any form of literature, such as journalists and historians. It is thought to be the world’s oldest human rights organisation and the oldest international literary organisation. (6) (9)

 At the start of WW2 Katharine trained as a nurse at NewarkHospital and worked at a wartime hospital at Thurgarton before joining the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, firstly in the police section, and later, when she became an officer, in the welfare role she felt herself more fitted for. On 28 June 1939 King George VI established the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) for duty with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in time of war. Since 1938, RAF Companies had existed within the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the female force equivalent to the Territorial Army. These companies were affiliated to Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons but by May 1939, the Government decided that a separate women's air service was necessary. The WAAF was not an independent organisation nor was it completely integrated within the RAF. Rather it was interlinked with its 'parent' force for the purpose of substituting, where possible, women for RAF personnel. It was mobilised on 28 August 1939 and within the year tens of thousands of women had volunteered to serve. In 1941 the WAAF became part of the Armed Forces of the Crown, subject to the Air Force Act. This was greeted with pride and enthusiasm by its members. With conscription for women introduced from December 1941, the ranks swelled further so that by July 1943 a peak strength of 182,000 had been reached. By 1945 a quarter of a million women had served in the WAAF in over 110 different trades, supporting operations around the world. They were an integral and vital part of the Royal Air Force's war effort. With war coming to an end demobilisation began. By June 1946 over 100,000 had left the service. The Government was conscious of the contribution made by the WAAF. Proposals for retaining a permanent female peacetime force were discussed and, as a result, the Women's Royal Air Force was re-formed on 1 February 1949.(10) (11)

  As for many other women, her personal life was drastically altered by loss and she never married. After the war she volunteered for welfare work in Germany, spending 14 months in Hamburg.(6)  However Katherine did return to Bleasby for a period in the 1950s to care for her parents when they became ill. Her father Robert Ernest Morris of Little Firs, Bleasby Nottinghamshire died on 27 Oct 1958 and probate was granted to Katharine. Her mother, Katharine had died a few years earlier in 1952.(12) (13) In 1959 she paid a visit to New York, leaving Southampton on 4 September on board the Rotterdam returning to Southampton on 9th November on the Queen Elizabeth. She appears to have been travelling alone and her occupation is listed as author. There is no indication as to the reason for her travel. It could have been purely for pleasure, for reasons involving PEN or to promote her books.(14) (15)

 Following this trip she went back to London where she worked as a social worker in Kensington and Chelsea until her retirement in 1974 when she returned to the old family home in Bleasby. During this period she continued to paint, write poetry and record her memories. She also took up sculpting,  producing some fine heads. (6)

 Katharine Morris died on Sunday 22 August 1999 and her funeral was held at St Mary’s Church, Bleasby on Friday 27 August 1999 when two of her poems were read.



1. Photo, Katharine Mollie Morris, -accessed 6 Feb 2015

2. Marriage, statutory record index, England, Bristol, Gloucestershire 1909 Jun Q. vol.6a; p.104

3. Death, statutory record index, England, Newark, Nottinghamshire 1999 Aug. register no. 12c; district & subdistrict 6882; entry no. 75

4. Census 1911, England, Nottinghamshire, Nottinghamshire; Class: RG14; Piece: 20495

5. Birth, statutory record index, England, Nottinghamshire, Nottingham, 1912 Mar Q. vol.7b; p.634

6. Obituary, The Guardian, Monday 20th September 1999. - accessed 6 Jan 2015

7. Website, Katharine Morris; Lionel Britton; Dr Tony Shaw – accessed 6 Feb 2015

8. The Newark Herald, England, Newark, Nottinghamshire 1957/06/29; p.2; col.5.

9. PEN International, Wikipedia; – accessed 7 Feb 2015

10. Obituary, England, Newark, Nottinghamshire, The Newark Advertiser 1999/08/25; p.28. col.1

11. WAAF, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force – – accessed 7 Feb 2015

12. Probate, England, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire 1958/12/05 – – accessed 7 Feb 2015

13. Death, statutory record index, England, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire 1952 Sep Q. vol.3c; p.258

14. Travel, England to USA, 1959/09/04; Passenger Lists leaving UK 1890-1960; – accessed 6 Jan 2015

15. Travel, USA to England, 1959/11/09. UK Incoming Passenger Lists 1878-1960; – accessed 6 Jan 2015


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