Wet Day Witches
Celia Berridge is clearly a successful illustrator and artist. If she is the same one I keep finding on the internet she illustrated the Postman Pat series and the Rosie and Jim books, and there are dozens of children’s volumes she’s illustrated listed on the internet, but I can find very little out about her.
In fact the most I can find out about her is inside the jacket-flap of her Greenwich-based 1976 story Wet Day Witches (Andre Deutsch) which, it would seem, she wrote very early on in her career, as there are only two other books listed as by her on the cover itself.
She was definitely living in Greenwich, with her husband and two young children, at the time she wrote Wet Day Witches and before becoming an illustrator, taught in primary schools in Deptford and Bermondsey. And that’s pretty much where I run out of information. But I’m guessing there will be local residents who either know her – or local illustrators who know her work. I’d be curious to learn more about her – not least that I’m willing to bet she was a regular at the Greenwich Book Boat.
But onto the story. It’s a simple picture book about a Greenwich brother and sister stuck indoors because it’s raining. Spying a big box of dressing up clothes, they decide to play at witches. Sally becomes the Green Witch of Greenwich:
while Ben goes for the Black witch of Blackheath:
I suppose at this point I’d better issue a SPOILER ALERT (well, you never know…)
In their imaginations they take it in turns to do terrible things to the people up on Blackheath, turning it into a jungle, so the people and the A2 traffic all gets stuck in the greenery, set magical fire to it so it’s all black and burnt, cover it with plagues of flies and bugs, turn the flies into slugs and toads, cover the people in green slime, and finally give them a coating of black treacle.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the good burghers of Greenwich and Blackheath get a bit fed up of being the butt of the witches’ feud and chase them across the heath. The naughty witches only just manage to scramble over the wall into Greenwich Park, at which point a rather annoyed Dad comes in and finds the house turned upside down.
What I like most about this simple tale is the very Greenwich-ness of it. Of course it works for children anywhere – it’s not so very specific that it’s exclusive to South East London – but if you know what you’re reading there are all sorts of little visual gags that only someone who actually lived here could create. The grim-old traffic on the A2. The silhouette of Blackheath church. The little corner of Greenwich Park wall.
For some reason it’s incredibly hard to find second hand (obviously it’s been out of print for yonks). I guess people don’t tend to keep children’s books and even if they do, they’ve often seen a fair amount of wear. Amazon’s cheapest copy is £62 and all Abebboks can offer is a $40 version from the States. I suspect the best hope of finding a copy is in local charity shops. Presumably more copies were sold around here than other places; you might be lucky…
In the meanwhile, I’d love to know more about Celia Berridge.
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