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Mrs Kathleen Watkins née Higgenbottom — 


Photograph by Michael Middleton
Photograph by Michael Middleton



First Name:


Last Name:


Father:  Unknown

Mother:  Unknown

Born:       11 Feb 1908

at: Stockport, England

Died:     03 Mar 2002

at: Kent, Petts Wood, England

Kathleen Higgenbottom has no children listed here.

Married once Eric Watkins  at: Stockport, England on Mar Q. 1935



Kathleen wrote lots of stories, some about Uncle Safroni, about her Aunt Nell and many about childhood. She wrote poems too.

Kathleen had long retired when I visited her in Petts Wood, but poetry was still part of her life. Her neighbour, Betty Sell, recalls Kathleen speaking of the Manchester of her youth, and the Methodist schools where, on Sunday, poetry was learned by rote - like mathematics - and poems were recited each week by chosen pupils. Kathleen’s bookshelves were full of poets and tiny booklets of poetry keepsakes in which ‘to ‘ ----’ with love’ would preface a short poem of, perhaps, Christina Rossetti or Keats.The birthdays of neighbourhood children might be recorded by a poem and the death of a favourite pet, or a local event

Simple Willy

By the wayside, simple Willy,
Came upon a toad,
Sleeping there so quietly in
Winter’s drear cold.

Underneath his coat he put it,
So to keep it warm,
To his lonely hearth he bore it,
Safe from unknown harm.

Proud he felt, did simple Willy,
As he shaped its nest,
Made for it a mossy pillow,
Soft and sweet for rest.

Drink he brought it from his table,
But it made no stir,
Coaxed it touched it very gently,
Bringing no demur.

Long it sleeps, thought simple Willy,
In the silent night,

Then piled up high the waning fire,
To keep his vigil bright.

Glad he was that none could see him,
Guardian of a toad,
Kinder men might lightly tease,
But harder men might goad.

Friends he had none, simple Willy
Save of hedge and field,
Nothing craved but humble roof, all
Wild things to shield.

Fearful, panting little wild things,
Found a refuge there,
Bleeding paws and stricken limbs,
Tended he with care.

Sleeping, sleeping still, this new friend,
As the day turned red,
Then it was that simple Willy
Whispered, ‘Toad is dead'.


might be similarly recorded.

Petts Wood resembled more of a village than a London suburb; a few surrounding streets, the shops and the local village hall forming the nucleus of a community. There were coffee mornings and a weekly attendance at a reading class run by the WEA where books and poetry would be discussed. Kathleen attended this class each week and her contribution would be a poem or essay celebrating a chosen book or author.




Kathleen Watkins is very much missed and, on her death, a service of thanksgiving was held, at which family and friends recalled her life. The service commenced with a recording of Kathleen Ferrier singing ‘O Rest in the Lord’ (Mendelshonn) and ended with a recording of ‘Blow the Wind southerly’ (Kathleen Ferrier seems so much a voice for Kathleen’s generation and it is remembered that Kathleen attended one of her farewell concerts with Neville Cardus)

At the ‘Service of Thanksgiving’ I spoke of Kathleen; a family friend, Robin Daniels, recalled her literary friends and more importantly, Anne Jasper, a niece, recalled Kathleen’s skill as a children’s poet. After the service, requests were made for copies of what had been read out, so I have these still.


Kathleen With Kittens
Kathleen With Kittens
For as long as I can remember there has always been Kathleen and Eric. Even before I can remember, for my mother recalls that when I was about to be born, Kathleen presented her with a cup of tea to be drunk from her best cup - just for the occasion!

At that time Kathleen and Eric lived above us - in a flat in our house in Streatham. It was in 1958 that they moved to Petts Wood and their house became a refuge for many people - myself included. She was Aunt Kathleen to me as she was Aunt Kathleen to many generations of her family. I often visited Kathleen and her husband Eric in their house. It was unchanged since it had been built in the 1930's, was also a refuge from the present. Kathleen was always an obliging host. It mattered little what one said, or even if visitors went to an upstairs room to sleep. And they had many visitors.

In her biography of her father-in-law, Ann Williamson recalls a time in 1971 when Henry Williamson stayed in London and worked on the final version of 'The Scanderoon' going to see Eric and Kathy Watkins, to read it and get their response, "So very kind and real friends", Henry Williamson had written. In these few words, Williamson has said it all.

But there was another visitor to Petts Wood, my mother!

Kathleen later told her what had really happened. Henry, arriving with the draft of his latest book, would order Kathleen to sit down whilst he read the latest chapter. One Sunday, whilst in the middle of cooking lunch she had sat silently as she had been requested. But her mind was not quite on his writing for she was thinking of what Williamson was to eat if the chops burnt to a cinder. When finally Williamson had finished his chapter and was ready to eat, he looked at the bumt chops and said, "Get larger chops next time" I remember Eric telling me that he first became acquainted with Williamson when he had written of his admiration for "Dandelion Days" which was published in 1922. Their friendship had lasted for nearly fifty years. It is not so well known that Williamson had asked Kathleen and Eric if they wished to move to move to Devon and live with him. They had politely declined. Williamson's loss has been Petts Wood's gain.

I found a note in Kathleen's papers. Eric writes, "I am over eighty years of age and no longer care for literary squabbles. Only the defence of an old friend has urged me to put pen to paper. My early admiration of Henry Williamson's novels led to correspondence and a prolonged friendship. the author paid many visits to my Kentish home - the front parlour of which Williamson confessed was the only place where he could fall asleep. This dubious honour led to one of the volumes of 'The Chronicles of Ancient Sunlight' being dedicated to my wife and myself'.


Kathleen in Alma Square
Kathleen in Alma Square
Kathleen and Eric knew two of the most gifted prose writers of the twentieth century - Henry Williamson, author of Tarka the Otter - and Neville Cardus, who was the first music critic to be knighted, and was the most vivid writer on cricket that has ever been. Williamson invited Kathleen and Eric's comments on his books when they were in draft form. His marathon readings went on for two or three hours during which time they were expected to sit silent and motionless, like statues of the Buddha. Neville was of a very different character - lighter in spirit and far less intense.

Kathleen's first meeting with him sounds like a fairy tale but it was true. Kathleen suffered from TB as a child and had to use callipers on her legs. But she recovered and poured all her new found energy into hockey and cricket. When her father, an architect, had read the Manchester Guardian from cover to cover, Kathleen, sprawled on the living room floor, would dissect the sports page and put Neville's cricket report in one of her large scrap books using what she called "flour-paste as thick as Sago pudding".

Encouraged by her sports mistress, Kathleen wrote to her hero and Neville replied, inviting her to bring the scrapbooks to show him, after which he could take her out to tea. Kathleen had to wait until the end of schooldays and, when the great day arrived, she strode into the Guardian offices and boldly told the receptionist that she had an appointment with Mr Cardus. They became friends for more than fifty years.

Neville refused to be boxed in by stuffy regulations. One day at Lord's Cricket Ground, while the worthiest of the MCC were supine in their lounge chairs after lunch, Neville motioned to Kathleen who was hiding by the door. "Now Kathleen," he urged and, needing no second prompt, she sprinted decorously behind the row of snoring men, and thus made history for becoming the first woman to set foot in - not that I can say 'be formally admitted to!' - that male bastion, the Long Room at Lords. Kathleen shared three qualities with Cardus - the gift of friendship, the gift of straight talking and the gift of laughter. With what foresight, she and Eric chose, almost fifty years ago, to live in Petts Wood where they found a network of caring friends, forming the very model of a real community. Kathleen's second gift was straight talking. This can either mean an in-your-face coarseness or, as with Kathleen and Neville also, a directness underpinned by deep culture. Kathleen's most shin:ng gift was humour.

On my very last visit to 140 Petts Wood Road, Essey and Gill were there. We made a cheerful quartet. During a quiet moment when Essey and Gill were in the kitchen preparing lunch, I asked her for her recipe, or secret, for long life. Without hesitation, she said, "Even now I still do my exercises in the morning. I end the day with a packet of crisps and make the best of all the hours in between." Then just before I left, I put my hand on her shoulder and was about to kiss her 'goodbye'. But when I was in the mid- stoop, Kathleen turned her head towards me, and her lips curled into a mischievous grin, using a mock contralto, she began to chant a Victorian ditty. Jill and Essey began to giggle, and tears of laughter were streaming from my eyes. So I trust you will forgive me for not being able to remember all the verses but I quote to you the three lines:

Who is this saucy fellow,
Who lays rough hand
On a maiden's shoulder? Bless her.

I loved Kathleen in life. I shall always love her - in fond memory.


Kathleen With Pram
Kathleen With Pram
In a letter my aunt, Kathleen, wrote to me after my father died in 1968, she said, "There is no doubt that dying also brings a person to life - one remembers so much."

Many of my memories of Kathleen are of a light hearted and sunny woman when I was growing up. One of the most endearing things about her was that she remained sunny and seemingly light hearted throughout her life, and never lost touch with the enchantments and innocence of childhood. This made her always a wonderful companion for children. We made scrapbooks, collected and painted shells in Devon, walked in bluebell woods, read 'Winnie The Pooh' and 'Orlando the Marmalade Cat' .

During the war Kathleen and Eric had an old wooden caravan in a field near Wendover, a quaint rural retreat where I loved to stay. Kathleen's war work was at a nearby children's home for evacuees from the East End of London and I have an abiding image; of her pushing a pram full of babies, with a trail of toddlers alongside, all being taken for a walk along a country lane.

Later Kathleen wrote poems for children, many of which were published in the magazine for teachers, 'Nursery World' and 'Child Education'; no doubt read to children in nursery schools and primary schools all over the country. This reminds me of how Kathleen could open a child's eyes to happy things.

Green Panes and Red

Green panes and red,
In Gran's glass door,
Make coloured pools
Along the floor.

And when there's sun,
In the dark, brown hall,
Soft rainbow lights
Dart up the wall.

They bob and flash
Upon each stair,
Soft green and red,
They flutter there.
Then we pretend,
My gran and me,
That butterflies
Have come to tea.

Kathleen had a way of making great friends with whoever happily crossed her path, child, adult or animal, and I expect she'd been doing so since childhood. Here's 'The Window Cleaner.'

The Window Cleaner

With cloth and pail comes Mr Green,
To rub the window panes,
On stormy days he's rarely seen,
Its useless when it rains.

On fine days if he comes to clean
The windows during tea,
Then I smile at Mr Green,
And he smiles at me.

These little poems have whimsical charm, and whimsical charm and humour were also endearing qualities of Kathleen. But of course Kathleen was never merely whimsical. Her appreciation and knowledge off a wide range of adult literature, as well as her own writings for adults, was rooted in a real acknowledgment and acceptance of life's darker side. I'll end with one of her poems which I think expresses just this, remembering Kathleen as we do, with much, much love.

The Tree Wind

There was a wind
In my childhood
Remembered for the brief sad way
It came into my play,
Stirring the summer tree
To whispering
Beyond my understanding,
Anxious as the swell
Of some far, unhappy sea;
It was a mind
Withdrawn from childish things
Dolls and buttercup chains -
A wind that rose like a secret wave
Caught in a drifting shell.
It came one lonely afternoon:
I did not hear it any more.

But now, that old sad wind,
I know it well;
It darkens the eyes to tears,
sighs back into the years,
When a child sits listening strangely
From a safe shore. ..
Anxious as the swell
Of some far, unhappy sea;
It was a mind
Withdrawn from childish things
Dolls and buttercup chains -
A wind that rose like a secret wave
Caught in a drifting shell.
It came one lonely afternoon:
I did not hear it any more.

But now, that old sad wind,
I know it well;
It darkens the eyes to tears,
sighs back into the years,
When a child sits listening strangely
From a safe shore...

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