Gaskell House Blogs

Just Richmal Crompton!

30th November 2020
in blog, blogsNnews, Literature, People

My grand plan was to feature Mrs Linnaeus Banks as the fourth Manchester woman writer in our Lockdown 2.0 series but I’m over-excited to find out that Richmal Crompton was born and brought up in Bury! I’ve moved Mrs Linnaeus Banks into Tier 3 – she won’t be forgotten – but let’s find out more about the woman who created William Brown and his band of Outlaws, and not forgetting Violet Elizabeth Bott.

Richmal Crompton Lamburn was born at 529 Manchester Road in Bury on 15 November 1890 as Meta and Julia Gaskell were living and working in our wonderful House on Plymouth Grove. Her unusual first name is a blend of Richard and Mary and is a Crompton name which the family had been using since the 1700s. In her early childhood, the family moved to Malvern Villas on Chesham Road in Bury. Both houses have blue plaques – rather grey today! – which commemorate her.

She was the second child of the Reverend Edward John Sewell Lamburn and his wife Clara, her father working as a Classics Master at Bury Grammar School. As a girl, she attended St Elphin’s Boarding School for the Daughters of Clergy which was firstly based in Warrington, and when her school transferred to Darley Dale near Matlock, she continued to attend there. After completing her degree at Royal Holloway College, she returned to St Elphins as a teacher, moving to Bromley High School in 1917 to continue her career. By all accounts , she was both dedicated and respected.

It was when she was teaching at Bromley High School that she began writing in earnest. William burst into print for the first time in 1919 in Home Magazine in the short story Rice Mould Pudding. The first of the 38 William books was published in 1922, and he continued to delight us until 1970 when the last book was published posthumously. Interestingly, Shelagh Delaney loved the Just William books! Richmal Crompton never disclosed who the inspiration for William was, but she had plenty of opportunity for observing boys and their exploits during her teaching career. He wasn’t universally loved – in 1963, the Lancashire County Librarian banned the books!

In 1923 she left teaching – she had contracted polio and had lost the use of her right leg – and she became a full time writer. Rather like Frances Hodgson Burnett, Richmal Crompton saw her writing for adults as the most important part of her work. Between 1923 and 1960 she published 41 novels and 9 collections of short stories. The only one of her books for adults which I’ve read is Family Roundabout, re-published in 2001 by Persephone Books and which is a very good read!

Richmal Crompton at her house in Chislehurst in 1968.

But it is principally for William – not forgetting Henry, Ginger and Douglas – that she is and will continue to be remembered and loved.

Lesley – House Volunteer

If you’ve enjoyed this post, do read our others in this Manchester Women Writers series. Find out more about Frances Hodgson Burnett, Dodie Smith and Shelagh Delaney

And please support our wonderful House! You can buy all things Gaskell at our online shop

a whispering of leaves and perfume of flowers always pervaded the rooms

Charlotte Brontë, on visiting 84 Plymouth Grove