British children's writer and novelist
Born 1890 Died 1969
A prolific and well known popular writer of the mid twentieth century, Richmal Crompton is remembered as the creator of William Brown, the star of Just William and the perennial bad boy of fiction.
Richmal Crompton Lamburn was born on the 15th November 1890 in a house on the Manchester Road at Bury in Lancashire, the daughter of a local schoolmaster, the Reverend Edward John Sewell Lamburn and his wife Clara. Richmal is of course something of an unusual christian name, and appears to have been an invention of her mother's family, from a combination of the names Richard and Mary, dating back originally to the early 1700s and retained thereafter as a Crompton family tradition.
Richmal was educated privately before attending the St Elphin's Clergy Daughters' School, which was initially to be found at Warrington in Lancashire, but later moved to Darley Dale in Derbyshire, after an outbreak of scarlet fever and some problems with the drains. Like many of her contemporaries Richmal was impressed by the new location but somewhat disappointed that they had left their resident ghost behind. She subsequently won a scholarship of £60 a year to the Royal Holloway College in London in 1911 where she read Classics. She was active in the college's hockey, tennis, and boating clubs and was known as a supporter of the campaign for women's suffrage, but remained focused on her studies of ancient Greek and Latin. She gained another university open classical scholarship in 1912, followed by the college's Driver scholarship in classics in 1914, and graduated with second class honours "as the best candidate of her year" since no-one got a first, a situation which was blamed on the arrival of the war.
After graduation she returned to teach at her old school of St Elphin's in 1915, and remained there until 1917 when she took up the post of classics mistress at Bromley High School for Girls. Miss Lamburn was a popular and successful schoolmistress, however it was in 1923 that she suffered an attack of poliomyelitis which left her without the use of her right leg, after which she was forced to give up teaching on medical advice. The loss of her career does not however seem to have caused her any particular disappointment, and she was later to claim that she had led "a more interesting life because of it", whilst she similarly glossed over the fact that she later developed breast cancer in the 1930s and was forced to undergo a mastectomy.
Perhaps the reason why Richmal was not unduly troubled by the premature end to her teaching career was by the time that she was struck by poliomyelitis in 1923 she had already established herself as a writer of short stories. Her first story Thomas: The Little Boy Who Would Grow Up appeared in the Girl's Own paper in 1918, and was followed by another story Mrs Tempest: And the Children She Tried to Mother. Both of these stories appeared under the Richmal Crompton name, as she was rather concerned by the fact that her teaching contract forbade her from undertaking any other employment. As it was the headmistress of Bromley High was delighted by the news that one of her employees had become a published writer and supportive of her efforts, and so Richmal continued to produce stories for the many magazines that proliferated at that time.
Of course as far as Richmal was concerned it was her accounts of the deeds of a certain schoolboy named William Brown which made the greatest impression. He made his debut in the story Rice-Mould in the February 1919 edition of the Home Magazine and soon became a regular feature of that magazine, before being transferred to the Happy Mag in 1922. Such was the popularity of the tales of William Brown that the publishers George Newnes gathered together twelve of these stories into a single volume entitled Just William in 1922, and were so impressed by the results that another fourteen were published under the title More William later that same year. This set set the tone for the ensuing years as a regular stream of William stories continued to feature in the Happy Mag, with the stories then annually repackaged by Newnes in a new hardback collection. The demise of theHappy Mag in 1940 as a result of wartime paper restrictions only changed things in that from that point onwards the William stories were written for direct publication in children's books which continued to appear until shortly after Richmal's death in 1969.
Nowadays everyone has forgotten that Richmal was also a successful writer of popular fiction, who wrote a total of forty-one adult novels and had nine collections of her adult short stories published. Indeed Richmal herself initially regarded William as something of a "potboiler" and a mere distraction from her more serious work. However her adult fiction, which consisted largely of family sagas, took as its subject matter the mores of interwar suburban life, and although perfectly acceptable and valid in itself therefore suffered from a certain built in obsolescence, and came to be regarded as 'old fashioned' even by the end of the 1950s. On the other hand her accounts of the anarchic William and his loyal gang of Outlaws, Ginger, Douglas and Henry, somehow managed to capture the eternal truths of what it is to be an eleven year old boy possessed of a certain adventurous disposition. (Not forgetting of course his ultimate nemesis in Violet Elizabeth Bott and her willingness to "thcweam and thcweam until I'm thick".)
William's success was certainly helped by the quality of the illustrations which were the responsibility of Thomas Henry, at least until his death in 1962 (he died whilst actually working on his latest William picture), after which the work was taken on by Henry Ford. It is worth noting however that the pre-war William stories which have tended to survive at the expense of the later work. The pre-war William possesses a certain satiric quality, and even today the stories are regarded as containing much sharp social observation (largely of course directed at the adults who intrude on the plot), whilst in the later books there is a tendency for slapstick to intrude at the expense of the earlier wit.
Once described by Dan O'Neill as the "Home Counties Huckleberry Finn", there is indeed something terribly English about William in his securely middle class home, which is probably why he has never particularly caught on in America. Nevertheless something in excess of ten million William books had been sold, with William also featuring in another four films, a similar number of television series, as well as several radio series, many of which are available as audio recordings. Despite Richmal's attempts to broaden her appeal by writing a trilogy of books featuring a younger boy named Jimmy, as well as her prodigious outpouring of more general fiction it is for William that she is remembered, and always will be.
Outside of her writing, Richmal Crompton lived a quiet life. She never married, and apart from a period during World War II when she worked as a volunteer for the fire service, spent a uneventful thirty-six years living at Bromley Common, before moving to Chislehurst for the last fifteen years of her life. She was raised as a stanch Anglican, and remained so throughout her life, although she did later acquire a certain interest in mysticism and the occult, and was a devoted supporter of a number of charitable organisations, particularly the Muscular Dystrophy Group and the British Polio Fellowship.
Throughout her life she had developed the habit of keeping a detailed diary outlining her future engagements, and would record the details of her regular appointments such as her meditation group weeks in advance. Curiously enough her diary contained only blank entries for the period after the 11th January 1969. That was the date on which she was admitted to Farnborough Hospital around half past twelve in the afternoon and where she suffered a fatal heart attack later that same afternoon. Her funeral service took place at St Nicholas's Church in Chiselhurst on the 16th February and she was cremated at Eltham later that same day.
The Works of Richmal Crompton
It is generally recognised that there are thirty-eight books in the Just William series as follows; Just William (1922), More William (1922), William Again (1923), William the Fourth (1924), Still William (1925), William the Conqueror (1926), William the Outlaw (1927), William In Trouble (1927), William the Good (1928), William (1929), William the Bad (1930), William's Happy Days (1930), William's Crowded Hours (1931), William the Pirate (1932), William the Rebel (1933), William the Gangster (1934), William the Detective (1935), Sweet William (1936), William the Showman (1937), William the Dictator (1938), William and ARP (1939), William and the Evacuees (1940), William Does His Bit (1941), William Carries On (1942), William and the Brains Trust (1945), Just William's Luck (1948), William the Bold (1950), William and the Tramp (1952), William and the Moon Rocket (1954), William and the Space Animal (1956), William's Television Show (1958), William the Explorer (1960), William's Treasure Trove (1962), William and the Witch (1964), William and the Pop Singers (1965), William and the Masked Ranger (1966), William the Superman (1968), and William the Lawless (1970).
Of these thirty-eight books Just William's Luck (1948) is unique in that it's a full length novel rather than a collection of short stories, whilst two of the war-time Williams were later republished in 1956 under new titles, with William and ARP being retitled as William's Bad Resolution, whilst William and the Evacuees (1940) became William and the Film Star (1956). Excluded from the above list is the 1939 Just William - The Book of the Film ('A Special Film edition) and the play William and the Artist's Model (1956). In addition there is What's Wrong with Civilizashun (1990) which consists of some previously uncollected magazine articles.
In addition to the William stories there is the trilogy of works featuring the younger Jimmy in; Jimmy (1949), Jimmy Again (1951) and Jimmy the Third (1965).
Her forty-one adult novels were; The Innermost Room (1923), The Hidden Light (1924), Anne Morrison (1925), The Wildings (1925), David Wilding (1926), The House (1926) published in the USA as Dread Dwelling, Millicent Dorrington (1927), Leadon Hill (1927), Enter - Patricia (1927), Roofs Off! (1928), The Thorn Bush (1928), The Four Graces (1929), Abbot's End (1929), Blue Flames (1930), Naomi Godstone (1930), Portrait of a Family (1931), The Odyssey of Euphemia Tracy (1932), Marriage of Hermione (1932), The Holiday (1933), Chedsy Place (1934), The Old Man's Birthday (1934), Quartet (1935), Caroline (1936), There Are Four Seasons (1937), Journeying Wave (1938), Merlin Bay (1939), Steffan Green (1940), Narcissa (1941), Mrs Frensham Describes a Circle (1942), Weatherley Parade (1944), Westover (1946), The Ridleys (1947), Family Roundabout (1948), Frost At Morning (1950), Linden Rise (1952), The Gypsy's Baby (1954), Four In Exile (1955), Matty and Dearingroydes (1956), Blind Man's Buff (1957), Wiseman's Folly (1959), and finally The Inheritor (1960).
Her nine adult story collections were; Kathleen and I, and, of Course, Veronica (1926), A Monstrous Regiment, (1927), Mist and Other Stories (1928), The Middle Things (1928), Felicity Stands By (1928), Sugar and Spice and Other Stories (1929), Ladies First (1929), The Silver Birch and Other Stories (1931), and The First Morning (1936).
- Mary Cadogan, The Woman Behind William: A Life of Richmal Crompton. (Pan Macmillan, 1993)
- Mary Cadogan, ‘Lamburn, Richmal Crompton (1890–1969)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Lincoln Allison, The Alternative Brown Boy: Richmal Crompton's William Again and Sweet William
- See also information at http://www.justwilliam.co.uk/ and