Richmal Crompton (1890-1969)

From Wikipedia:

“Richmal Crompton Lamburn was born in Bury, Lancashire, the second child of the Rev. Edward John Sewell Lamburn, a Classics master at Bury Grammar School and his wife Clara (née Crompton). Her brother, John Battersby Crompton Lamburn, also became a writer, remembered under the name John Lambourne for his fantasy novel The Kingdom That Was (1931) and under the name “John Crompton” for his books on natural history.

Richmal Crompton attended St Elphin’s Boarding School for the daughters of the clergy, originally based in Warrington, Lancashire. She later moved with the school to a new location in Darley Dale, near Matlock, Derbyshire in 1904. In order to further her chosen career as a schoolteacher, she won a scholarship to Royal Holloway College, part of the University of London in Englefield Green, Surrey. Crompton graduated in 1914 with a BA honours degree in Classics (II class). She took part in the Women’s Suffrage movement.

In 1914, she returned to St Elphin’s as a Classics mistress and later, at age 27, moved to Bromley High School in southeast London where she began her writing in earnest. Cadogan (1993) shows that she was an excellent and committed teacher at both schools. Having contracted poliomyelitis, she was left without the use of her right leg in 1923. She gave up her teaching career and began to write full-time. Later in her forties, she suffered from breast cancer and had a mastectomy.

She never married and had no children; she was an aunt and a great-aunt. Her William stories and her other literature were extremely successful and, three years after she retired from teaching, Crompton was able to afford to have a house (The Glebe) built in Bromley Common for herself and her mother, Clara.

In spite of her disabilities, during the Second World War she volunteered for the Fire Service.

Crompton died on 11th January, 1969 at the age of 78, after a heart attack, in Farnborough Hospital. Crompton had fallen ill on the drive home from visiting her niece’s home in Chelsfield, Kent. After feeling unwell during the night, Crompton telephoned friends the next morning and died within an hour of being taken to hospital.

Crompton left the copyright of all her books to her niece, Mrs Richmal C. L. Ashbee of Chelsfield, Kent…

…As for the source of inspiration of the main character William, Crompton never disclosed it and therefore different opinions exist. Presumably it was the result of mixing observations of children she worked with or knew with her own imagination. According to her niece Kate Massey, co-president of the Just William Society, Crompton completely captured the world of an 11-year-old boy, basing the character on her younger brother Jack. According to the (late) actor John Teed, whose family lived next door to Crompton, the model for William was Crompton’s nephew Tommy:

As a boy I knew Miss Richmal Crompton Lamburn well. She lived quietly with her mother in Cherry Orchard Road, Bromley Common. My family lived next door. In those days it was a small rural village. Miss Lamburn was a delightful unassuming young woman and I used to play with her young nephew Tommy. He used to get up to all sorts of tricks and he was always presumed to be the inspiration for William by all of us. Having contracted polio she was…confined to a wheelchair. Owing to her restricted movements she took her setting from her immediate surroundings which contained many of the features described, such as unspoilt woods and wide streams and Biggin Hill Aerodrome, very active in the Twenties.

Crompton’s fiction centres around family and social life, dwelling on the constraints that they place on individuals while also nurturing them. This is best seen in her depiction of children as puzzled onlookers of society’s ways. Nevertheless, the children, particularly William and his Outlaws, almost always emerge triumphant.

The William books have been translated into nine languages.”

From the website of the Chislehurst Society:

“In the early 1950s, she looked for a smaller house, and in 1954 she moved to live at Beechworth, a house in Chislehurst on Orpington Road, near Leesons Hill.  She continued her writing here, and became involved in the local community, as a church goer and supporter of the Conservative party. She also became interested in reincarnation, mysticism and the occult.

Source: Mary Cadogan’s biography “Richmal Crompton: the woman behind Just William”, (1986). Cadogan draws on the contents of Crompton’s novels and short stories to flesh out her life and beliefs.”

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