Barbara Whitehead

THE Yorkshire novelist Barbara Whitehead, who was also a family historian and Bronte enthusiast, has died aged 80 after a long illness.

Although she did not start writing until comparatively late in life for a novelist, over a period of more than 20 years she wrote a series of historical romances and crime novels and at one time ranked in the top seven per cent of authors most requested at public libraries.

She termed her crime novels her York Cycle of Mysteries because the city, where she was then living with her family, was the backdrop for her work.

She was born in Sheffield, the only child of a mother who also was a writer – Nellie Connole author of poetry, short stories and the occasional biography. She was educated at High Storrs Grammar School and at Sheffield College of Arts and Crafts, and married while still a student.

She later said in an interview with the Yorkshire Post: "If I hadn't married so young, I might have become an art teacher instead of a writer. When I was a child I was always pulled one way by literature and another by art. I've a general need to create."

One of her early memories was accompanying her mother to a writing class, and she decided when she was nine that she wanted to be a writer.

But she had a variety of careers before finally turning to writing, including working as a librarian, civil servant, running a newsagent's shop, being a freelance genealogist, a teacher, breeding dogs and keeping chickens.

She was 46 when she wrote her first novel, The Caretaker's Wife, a Regency romance, and only started writing in earnest when, exasperated by an historical book she was reading, thought it was so bad that she could do better herself.

She was working as a clerical assistant in York telephone office and spending her lunchtimes researching in York Minster reference library when she wrote that first novel which was immediately accepted by the first publisher she sent it to. It was also serialised in a women's magazine, and even sold in the US.

At first she wrote for 20 minutes each day – 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night, but after her second novel she turned to writing full-time.

Her interest in family history and research led her to write a book on digging up your family tree, and another on Charlotte Bronte. That took 12 years research and was based mainly on previously unseen family archives.

In later life she also moved closer to Bronte country, living in Thornton, Bradford.

She was a member of the Society of Genealogists and in the 1970s taught evening classes in family history. Many of her students later went on to form York Family History Society.

She is survived by her sons Roger, John and Alan, grandson Philip and partner Bernard.