Richmal Crompton former home, Bury


For years I thought Richmal was a man but she was a popular female novelist who wrote 38 Just William novels and 41 novels for adults. Here I am outside the end terrace house where she was born. It’s on a busy road and it was easy to cross as the traffic kept grinding to a halt.


I looked up at the windows and wondered which room she was born in. Her dad was a vicar and teacher at Bury Grammar School. There was a brother John who also became a writer. The family were neither poor nor wealthy and Richmal attended a boarding school for the daughters of the clergy. She wanted to be a schoolteacher and after a spell at university she fulfilled her ambition by becoming a teach at her old school. By 27 she’d moved south and never return to the north to live again. She was teaching at Bromley High School in London but roaring success took over. She’d started writing and was so commercially successful this would become her full time career. Aged 33 she contracted poliomyelitis (polio) which ruined her right leg and she was forced to leaving teaching. This unassuming woman was the JK Rowling of her day though she never revealed who William in the mega-selling Just William books was based on. He was probably based on a mix of her nephew Tommy and her brother.


Children adored the Just William book even though they didn't live in the countryside where they were set. Perhaps the misadventures around village sweet shops, manor houses, irate farmers, ex-military gentlemen and batty spinsters offered some kind of escapism. The novels became so successful (sales of 12m in UK) that within three years of leaving teaching Richmal could afford to have a house built. Despite the money from films, stage-plays and television series she led a ordinary and even spartan life; there were never any partners, she was committed Christian, virginal and conservative. In her forties she contracted cancer but died of a heart attack in Farnborough Hospital aged 78. She left the copyright of all her books to her niece along with £57,623 (about £1 million in today’s money.) I looked at the blue plaque, did a salute and left. As I walked back to the car on a side street I saw a bus strike a pigeon and saw it landed in a garden. I stayed with it a while as it hopped around and was glad to see it take flight again.