The road from Matlock to Bakewell in Derbyshire passes a large Victorian pile which was once St. Elphin's boarding school for the daughters of the clergy, but is now a retirement complex.
I must have passed the school many times without ever realizing that Richmal Crompton went there as a pupil and later returned as a classics teacher. She was of course the author of the hugely successful William books, all of which I devoured in my youth.
Quite why I took to them so avidly I’m not sure. The hero of the books was William Brown, a decidedly middle class boy, while I grew up on a council estate. His was a world of domestic servants such as maids to open the front door and cooks to prepare the family meals. Not my world by any stretch of the imagination.
Maybe that’s it though – the vital ingredient of Crompton’s books. They stirred the imagination – at least they must have stirred mine, because I loved them. Even the pen and ink drawings seemed right somehow.
|William in William below stairs|
I read one recently – once I'd made this momentous discovery about the connection between Richmal Crompton and St Elphin’s. The books still read well, even now. Clearly written, not condescending and each story has a beginning, middle and end.
Boyish stories I suppose – in an old-fashioned sense. Camp fires and strange cookery experiments, climbing trees, dirty knees, running wild and mischief.
William had his arch-enemy too - Hubert Lane, leader of the Laneites. If my younger self had a criticism of the William books, it would be the too infrequent appearance of Hubert Lane. I enjoyed William's battles with Hubert. Essentially they were battles of wits where of course William always emerged victorious in one way or another.
And who could ever forget Violet Elizabeth Bott, the lisping daughter of a local nouveau riche millionaire? Who could forget her blood-curdling threat?
I'll thcream and thcream 'till I'm thick.
Do young people still read them? I don't know, because William's world has mostly disappeared now.