Suddenly risen to power and influence, Samuel Fairbrother, manufacturer and retailer of boots, shoes and clogs, decided that his new station in life deserved a more imposing residence. Accordingly he bought himself a thirty-four-roomed mansion situated on the outskirts of Fellburn. With the house came the butler, Maitland, who at once made plain his belief that Samuel, far from the gentleman his predecessor had been, was no more than an upstart. So began a clash of wills between master and man, at which Samuel Fairbrother discovered he was at a distinct disadvantage, for Maitland was well skilled in the art of maintaining his indispensability. Fairbrother, for his part, was only too aware that he dare not dispense with Maitland's services. And so an uneasy truce was declared between them. As the years went by and the century turned, Samuel Fairbrother saw his children, one by one, leave the big house to make lives of their own - all except his eldest daughter Janet who, by means of a legacy, was enabled to shape the destiny of her father's scattered family and effect the reconciliation that he thought was impossible.
Catherine Cookson was born in Tyne Dock, the illegitimate daughter of a poverty-stricken woman, Kate, whom she believed to be her older sister. She began work in service but eventually moved south to Hastings, where she met and married Tom Cookson, a local grammar-school master. Although she was originally acclaimed as a regional writer - her novel The Round Tower won the Winifred Holtby Award for the best regional novel of 1968 - her readership quickly spread throughout the world, and her many best-selling novels established her as one of the most popular of contemporary women novelists. After receiving an OBE in 1985, Catherine Cookson was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1993. She was appointed an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford, in 1997. For many years she lived near Newcastle upon Tyne. She died shortly before her ninety-second birthday, in June 1998.