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Greenwich and Eltham Cemeteries – resting place of one of Britain’s most cherished children’s authors

Continuing our coverage of cemeteries in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, this week we focus on Eltham Cemetery

Eltham Cemetery and Crematorium (or ‘Falconwood’) is relatively modern, with the cemetery section having opened in 1935. Darren Beach’s excellent pocket-sized London Cemeteries book[1] describes it as “one of London’s flattest cemeteries, especially compared with the rolling hills of Greenwich. Given the terrain, it’s not surprisingly based on a grid pattern, with trees only along the paths and edges.”
Eltham Chapel
The cemetery features some interesting memorials and Beach highlights a “half-size figure of a man dressed in flying gear commemorating an airman killed in 1938. It’s not easy to miss – his outfit looks more like a post-apocalyptic radioactivity suit than anything else.”

Memorial to L.A/C. Ernest Francis Bennett, who lost his life when flying solo from the No 12 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School, Prestwick
The wreckage of the L. A/C Bennett's aircraft was located near Strathaven, Lanarkshire
However, probably Eltham's most notable occupant is Richmal Crompton, the creator of the naughty 11 year old schoolboy hero, William Brown. Peek inside the children’s corner of any library or bookshop across Britain and it’s likely you’ll spy a copy of one of the thirty-eight William books that were written by Crompton over five decades.

Born on the 15 November 1890 in Bury, Lancashire as Richmal Crompton Lamburn. Crompton was actually her mother’s maiden name. Although an unusual name today, Richmal was a fairly common name in the Bury area, but virtually unknown outside Lancashire. She left the north for university in London, where she graduated in Classics. Like many children’s authors, Crompton worked as a teacher and, like Enid Blyton, she worked in south London, and she later lived in Bromley, Kent. The first story about William appeared in Home magazine in 1919. Since then, the William books have become bestsellers, and have been adapted for stage, radio and television – including a recent BBC version starring Daniel Roche.

In the early 1920s, Crompton contracted poliomyelitis, which led to the loss of the use of her right leg in 1923. It was then that Crompton left teaching and devoted her life to writing. During the Second World War, she volunteered for the Auxiliary Fire Service. Although she was a popular aunt and great aunt, she never married and had no children.

Crompton’s canon of work includes forty adult novels and nine collections of short stories. Despite writing most of her books for adults, it is for her character of William that Richmal Crompton continues to be most fondly remembered. Martin Jarvis, the voice of William in most radio and audiobook readings of the books, describes the world she created as “still real, still recognizable, reflecting both the absurdity and blessedness of British life.”[2] The mischievous scamp, whose motto is “Doin good, ritin’ rongs and persuin’ happiness for all” remains one of the enduring characters of British children’s fiction.

Richmal Crompton Lamburn died in Bromley on the 11th January 1969, aged 78. Her body was cremated at Eltham Crematorium five days later.

Register entry for Richmal Crompton Lamburn (taken from the Deceased Online database)

The rose garden where Richmal Crompton's ashes are scattered
As usual, we love to hear from readers of this blog. Do you have a favourite William book? Or perhaps you know of someone buried or cremated at Eltham? 

Leave a comment in the box below, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook

[1] published by Metro Guides
[2] Martin Jarvis, Foreword to More William (2010 edition, Macmillian) 


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