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.

the attachments to this post:

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6 Comments to “Wet Day Witches”

  1. Rod says:

    I don’t have a lead on Celia Berridge, but there are a few knowledgeable illustration industry figures that might be worth asking.

    Martin Salisbury – Professor of Illustration; Pathway Leader, MA Children’s Book Illustration

    Chris Beetles of the Beetles Gallery

    John Huddy of the Illustration Cupboard gallery

    Or maybe the Association of Illustrators

  2. Bad Witch says:

    I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for copies in charity shops!

  3. pat says:

    Phantom you have uncovered a treasure. But if you enjoy “Wet Day Witches” you must must must must try to get hold of “Runaway Danny” also by Celia Berridge.
    I don’t have access to a scanner but I know you would enjoy the illustrations (and the story) so much. It may be old but it still gets read to my group of Nursery children and they love it! Sadly, my copy of “Wet Day Witches” is now extremely battered and I would love a replacement but know they are hard to come by.

  4. Wolfe says:

    Great pictures, but I bet that Celia Berridge wasn’t a regular at the Book Boat. You couldn’t be. The Book Boat was a bit rubbish. You never knew when it would be open and it frequently wasn’t. It was a nice idea but badly executed which is why, I guess, along with the location, it closed.

    The image of it as something wrecked by overly cautious health and safety rules is as unlikely as the idea that Greenwich used to be a halcyon place full of lovely antique stores, browsable bookshops and cosy tea-rooms. It wasn’t. 25 years ago it had a lot of junk shops, some useful hardware and electrical stores and an empty and unused market. The pubs were better, but most people didn’t go except at the weekends. Sorry, slightly off topic but I just re-read you Book Boat post. Nostalgia’s all very well but better if what one’s nostalging about actually existed…And, incidentally, we’re not doing badly on bookshops with Halcyon, Waterstones, Maritime Books, Greenwich Book Time and the odd, and endearing, shop on Creek Road.

  5. Hey Wolfe – I’ve missed you!

  6. Elaine says:

    Dear Phantom,

    Celia is a good friend of mine and now lives in Rodmell, near Lewes. After illustrating many of the Postman Pat books she went on to study for a BA and MA in Fine Art at St Martin’s and Chelsea Schools of Art, and has had exhibitions of her paintings in Lewes. She was a visiting tutor at Central School of Art.
    She also breeds rare chickens in her large country garden near the South Downs.