Richmal Crompton

By the time Richmal Crompton came to live in Chislehurst she had published 28 William Books.  The first was published in 1922 when Richmal Crompton was 31 years old.  The last of her 38 William books was published in 1970, the year after her death.

Richmal Crompton Lamburn was born in Bury, Lancashire, on 15 November 1890.  After school in Warrington and Matlock, Derbyshire, she won a scholarship to the Royal Holloway College in London, where she graduated in 1914 with a degree in Classics.  After four years teaching in Lancashire, she moved to Bromley, where she taught classics for five years at Bromley High School, a Girl’s Public Day School Trust establishment, which at that time was located in Elmfield Road, off Bromley High Street.  She was by all accounts a talented and much loved teacher.

Her teaching career was cut short at the end of 1923 after she contracted poliomyelitis (now known simply as polio, but at that time generally called infantile paralysis), which caused her to lose the use of her right leg.  She tried to carry on teaching, but was advised to give up by her doctor.

She was already writing short stories while teaching under the name Richmal Crompton.  Initially published in Happy Mag, a number of short stories were published in a book, called Just William, which was published in 1922.  After giving up her teaching career she concentrated on writing.  In addition to her William books, she published four other children’s books, and 50 novels, or collections of short stories, intended for adults, though none of these had the success of her William books.

While teaching she had lived in Cherry Orchard Road, off the A21 south of Bromley Common.  Her mother had come to live with her when she moved to Bromley, her father having died in 1915, and she nursed her daughter through her illness in 1923. After the huge success of the William books Richmal was able to purchase an acre of land in nearby Oakley Road, where she had a larger house built, The Glebe, which now sports a blue plaque in her honour. Her mother lived with her until her death in 1939, after which Richmal’s sister, Gwen, moved in to live with her.  She never married.

While living in Bromley, her fame as a writer enabled her to travel widely, despite her disability, but she maintained an interest in local matters, and joined the Auxiliary Fire Service during WWII.

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.

She died on 11 January 1969 aged 78.

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