Katherine Henderson (B.1908): An Introduction – Writing Lives

Katherine Henderson (B.1908): An Introduction

Katherine Henderson, named Katherine Wightwick at birth was the youngest of her thirteen siblings born in 1908 in Ruckinge, a village several miles from Ashford, Kent. Her memoir ‘Had I But Known’ illustrates a life of struggle.

Katherine’s memoir takes us to the realms of reality for working class citizens of the 20th century.  Her memoir touches on aspects such as family life, schooling, war experiences and married life, all which are mirrored in today’s society. A a deep taboo subject lies in the core of her life writing as the death of her son by her mentally unstable husband goes on to shape her existence. John Dudley, Katherine’s husband murdered their son due to his jealous nature.  I am curious as to what Katherine’s motives were for writing her memoir, was it to document her life, or to raise awareness of the dangers of mental instability?

She experienced domination from a very early age as she viewed her father as a ‘martinet,’ (1) which was also paralleled in her marital years as women ‘lived in awe of their husbands. ’ (1) Katherine lead a dark life, but always managed to pick herself up and carry on with life as best she could. She used religious philosophy and returning to work as a coping mechanism.

roman church
Roman Catholic Church in Ashford, 1908.


Writing down the experiences of her working days gives Katherine a chance to reflect on her life. She notes down a lot of regret she has for her choice of marriage.  Katherine fell in love at her brother’s wedding, which she acknowledges to be the ‘only love’ of her life, though she did not marry him. (12) The regretful tone is seen as Katherine ‘lived to regret her hasty decision in parting’ (24) with her one true love. Katherine went on to marry a military man who she felt she ‘did not love as she felt she ought to.’ (24) The repentant tone throughout demonstrates how different her life  could have been had she married the love of her life as she clearly would have ‘saved a lot of heartache’ (24) later on in her lifetime.  The purpose of her memoir, a memoir to disclose her regret is reflected in the title, ‘Had I But Known’ as she continually relates to the awareness if she had known the consequence of marrying John, she would have chosen a different path to live her life.

Katherine’s memoir is attractive due to the unfortunate events that occurred throughout her working life, however her memoir is not all doom and gloom as it illustrates the travelling she entails, even though she is a working class lady with minimal capital, her work life enabled her to travel.

Map of Ruckinge, Kent.

What engrossed me most in Katherine’s autobiography was simply her name. Born Katherine Wightwick, marrying as Katherine Dudley, why then did she go on to disclose her autobiography hidden behind the name Katherine Henderson?


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