Explore Your Archive: People Stories – Kathleen Hale

OrlandoOur next blog from the students of The Abbey School explores the fascinating story of Kathleen Hale.

If you were a child in the 1930s, you might well have ended your day with a bedtime story by Kathleen Hale. Her Orlando the Marmalade Cat books captivated many children with their bright colours and entertaining stories, setting a new standard for children’s book. But she didn’t stop at children’s books.

Kathleen was born in 1898 in Lanarkshire, however she was brought up in Manchester. Unfortunately by the age of 5 her father had died so along with her brother and sister she went to live with her grandfather whilst her mother carried on her father’s work. As a child she was quite rebellious and recalled spending most of her lessons sitting outside classrooms, she was also very creative –  ‘whilst seeming to join in the hymns in the little church in Yorkshire…she would actually be singing her own song about adventures of a little pig’ –  showing her passion for writing starting at a young age!

In 1915, she gained a scholarship at Reading University to study fine art, where she was a student until 1917. She was very hard working and people recalled that she ‘worked very hard late into the evening being turned out of the studio by the caretaker when locking up.’ In addition to her studies whilst living at St. Andrews hall, she spent time at the University’s farm and often escaped through the ground floor window at 6 am to cycle to the farm getting back in time for prayers, for 6 pence an hour to supplement her scholarship, showing just how hard working and dedicated she was throughout her life.

Hale married Douglas MacLean in 1926. She claimed that she ‘broke all the rules of decent behavior.’ This is due to her marriage being unconventional as it was suggested by her husband’s father Dr John Maclean who had started a friendship with her whilst treating her but as the gap was too large to marry, suggested his son as a suitor.

The idea for her most famous piece of work came to her whilst on holiday in Italy with her husband where she saw a large woman at a lemonade stand calling out ‘Orlando’ and a small boy with bright orange hair ‘the colour of marmalade’ turned up, and the idea for Orlando the marmalade cat was born. She first decided to write as there weren’t many available children’s books at the time and was encouraged to write the captivating stories she told her son. The stories were very popular during the war time as their bright colours and stories of normal families raised morale, showing just how effective and treasured they were. Orlando’s character was based on her husband and many incidents in the book were taken from family experiences.

The first book was published in 1938 by Country Life after many rejections, after this Kathleen continued to write many following stories of Orlando’s adventures for years to come.
Hale had 2 sons and moved to rural Oxfordshire in 1961. During her time there she received received an OBE in 1976 and remained here until her death at aged 101 in the year 2000.

By Mahnoor and Anisha



The students used the following items for their research:

Orlando (the marmalade cat) buys a farm. CHILDREN’S COLLECTION FOLIO–823.9-HAL

Orlando’s country peepshow. CHILDREN’S COLLECTION–823.9-HAL

A slender reputation : an autobiography / Kathleen Hale. 823.912-HAL (available in our open access library next to the reading room)

If you want to explore this story further, these items can be consulted in our reading room by appointment – for more information click here.

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