Winifred Foley, née Mason, was born in the pit village of Brierley, near Cinderford, in the Forest of Dean. Her father was a coal miner and often out of work; the family lived in grinding poverty during her childhood. She left school at age 14 and went off to work as as domestic servant in London. She married Syd Foley, a woodman, with whom she had four children. After World War II, they went to live in an isolated cottage on the fringes of the Forest of Dean. She began writing her memoirs in exercise books and sent one to the Bristol office of BBC radio's popular "Woman's Hour" program. This led to a Woman's Hour serial adaptation in 1973, followed by the publication of Winifred's first book, A Child in the Forest (1974). It became the first of three celebrated memoirs, along with No Pipe Dreams for Father (1977) and Back to the Forest (1981) -- published together as The Forest Trilogy by Oxford University Press (1992). Her final collection of memoirs was In and Out of the Forest (1984). Winifred's story also inspired the BBC Television drama Abide with Me (1977).
It was re-made in 2001 as Child of the Forest for HTV West. At the age of 86, Winifred began a new career as a romantic novelist with Village Fates (2000), followed by Prejudice and Pride (2005), To Kill for Love (2006), and Two Men and a Maiden (2007).