Richmal Mangnall
after John Downman
stipple and line engraving, early 19th century
NPG D4980
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Richmal Mangnall was born on the 7th March 1769 to James Mangnall (LM022) and his wife Richmal (nee Kay) (LM023). We think she was probably born in Manchester. She was a pupil at a school at Mrs Wilson’s School for Girls at Crofton Hall near Wakefield in West Yorkshire. Her parents lived at Hollinhurst in Manchester and also in London but I unable to find any dates or more precise locations. Her parents died in 1785 and 1788, Richmal was still quite young and she was adopted by her uncle, John Kay, who was a solicitor in Manchester – he paid for Richmal’s continuing education. After finishing her education she was offered a post as a school mistress at Crofton Hall.

Richmal was the author “Historical and Miscellaneous Questions for the Use of Young People” generally known as “Mangnall’s Questions”. The first edition, published in 1800 by Clarke of Stockport, did not have her name on it and was dedicated to John Kay, Esq. and is signed “The Editor”, dated 30th September 1800. “Mangnall’s Questions” became a prominent textbook in the education of English girls in the first half of the 19th century. Basically it contained information that it was thought “proper” that young ladies should know the answers to. It has been described as a “Comprehensive summary of universal history : with a biography of distinguished persons from the earliest period to the present time : to which is appended an epitome of heathen mythology, natural philosophy, general astronomy and physiolgy”. The book was adapted for use in American schools as well. Regular, “corrected and improved” editions appeared with an 11th edition by 1814. Even after her death new editions appeared with the 84 edition in 1857!

In 1805 a volume of poems was printed by Clarke of Stockport and published by Messrs. Longman and Co. under the title of “Half an Hour’s Lounge” subtitled “Poems by Richmal Mangnall”. The dedication was “To my own family These trifles are inscribed by An affectionate Sister and Friend.” It was 80 pages long with 40 poems. A copy can be seen and read on Google Books. One of the poems, on page 17, is called “To the Memory of an Officer In the Honorable East-India Company’s Service” and was written in 1801, no doubt it was written in memory of her brother Kay (JM059) who died serving in India.

In 1808 Mrs Wilson retired and Richmal was in a position to buy the school becoming the Governess / Head. You can read about the school from the point of view of one it’s pupils in the diary of Elizabeth Firth.

In 1815 “Compendium of Geography” was published by Messrs. Longman and was dedicated to an old pupil “Mrs Edward Archdall of Riversdale, Fermanagh” who obviously held her old school mistress in high regard as she named her daughter Richmal Mangnall Archdall!

Richmal Mangnall
by John Downman
watercolour, 1814
NPG 4377
© National Portrait Gallery, London

John Downman painted two pictures of Richmal and one of Miss Fayrer “Dear friend of Miss Richmall Mangnall” in 1814. You can see one of the pictures on the right along with a stipple and line engraving derived from one of the paintings. Elizabeth Fayrer (1782-1816) was another teacher at Crofton School.

One of Richmal’s students in 1814/15 was Eliza Alderson. On the right are pictures of two small handwritten certificates awarded to Eliza and signed by Richmal. They are dated April 5th 1814 and October 5th 1815. These were supplied by John Skelton who would be interested in any information relating to Eliza Alderson.

Richmal died “after a severe illness, which was borne with the utmost Christian resignation” on the 1st May 1820 at Crofton Hall and she buried in the churchyard of All Saints Church in Crofton. Her will contained the instructions:

I request to be interred in the same grave with my friend Elizabeth Fayrer in Crofton Churchyard in case I die in England, my funeral to be as plain as possible consistent with decency.

Richmal also gave instructions that neither her age nor her date of birth should be on the tombstone which reads:

Sacred to the Memory
Richmal Mangnall
of Crofton Hall
who departed this life on
May day 1820

Ah when shall spring
visit the mouldering Urn
of Virtue Knowledge
Friendship naught
remain save her
blest soul now fled
to Realms of Bliss.

Richmal was a generous person, each feast day was marked by some act of charity to the poor eg on St Thomas’ Day (Winter Solstice on 21st December) she would present to every local inhabitant who arrived on her doorstep an oatcake and a penny. On Christmas Day she would give a Bible to older people and a New Testament to the young. She died worth about £13,000 which was a substantial amount of money in those days.

In 1823 Maria and Elizabeth Brontë went to Crofton Hall at Wakefield. The fees were about £28 a year which was too much for the family so in July 1824 they moved to a school at Cowan Bridge where they were later joined by Charlotte and Emily. Further information about the Brontës can be found on the Brontë Parsonage Museum web site.

There is a web site for the village of Crofton where Crofton Hall is situated including a photo of Crofton Hall and more photos.

[Last updated 31 Dec 2021]