How the ‘Witch’ of West Street showed true care for children

In Croydon, just after the Second World War, when the first flush of newborns brought hope and normality back, Margy was given away at birth to a woman whom local children called “The Witch On The Corner”.

Christine (left) and Martina, the author’s sisters, in the churchyard of St Andrew’s, just across from 21A West Street, where much of the book is set

Nell Williams lived at 21A West Street, an old widow, suffering terribly from arthritis. With a birthmark on her face and a broken nose, poor Nell was cruelly nicknamed “The Witch”.

Yet she provided homes and care for local children for decades in a rapidly changing Britain, including for Margy and her sisters Martina and Christine. It is this story which is told in a new book from Margaret Sharpe Bermudez, written with Stephanie Mason.

The Shadow of the Teapot is a touching memoir of events that took place in Croydon between the late 1940s and the mid-1970s, principally at 21A West Street, opposite St Andrew’s Church.

21A was the home of the Williams family, who were the local coal merchants. Nell and Albert Williams had already taken in one small child in the 1920s to save her from the orphanage, even though the couple had five daughters of their own.

In the 1940s and 1950s, after Albert had been killed, Nell took in a further three new-born babies and gave them a safe and caring upbringing. Nell also cared for any child whose parents needed a few hours off, and although her home lacked a bathroom or an inside loo, 21A was known as the place in South Croydon where any child would be welcomed and no charge of any sort would ever be made.

In her book, Margy tells the story of the discovery that real family can be more sinister than any imagined “witch”, and that true kindness has the power to beautify the least attractive face.

The Shadow Of The Teapot is a Call The Midwife-style account of life in a rapidly changing Croydon. From the bomb sites and rationing of post-war London to the Swinging Sixties and into the 1970s of strikes and power cuts, it documents social history and common kindness.

You can order the book via Amazon by clicking here.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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