Barbara Whitehead was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England. Her mother Nellie Connole was also a writer. Barbara was educated at High Storrs Grammar School and at Sheffield College of Arts and Crafts, and married while still a student. She held a variety of jobs before turning to writing at age 46, including librarian, civil servant, newsagent, family genealogist, teacher, and dog breeder. Early in her literary career, she wrote historical romances beginning with The Caretaker's Wife (1977), and nonfiction such as Charlotte Bronte and Her 'Dearest Nell': The Story of Friendship (1993). Her first crime novel, Playing God (1988), took as its backdrop the world-famous York mystery plays. This became the opening entry in her York Cycle of Mysteries, which eventually included eight books published over a decade. Her main character was Det. Superintendent Robert Southwell. In the late 1990s, she acquired and lovingly restored the Brontë Birthplace in Thornton, near Bradford, with the support of the Brontë Birthplace Trust. She lived there and maintained the property as a public museum before selling it in 2007. She was a member of the Society of Genealogists and in the 1970s taught evening classes in family history.