Richmal Mangnall (1769–1820) was an English schoolmistress and writer of a famous schoolbook.
Richmal was born on 7 March 1769, probably in London. She was one of seven children of James Mangnall of Hollinhurst, Lancashire, and London, and Richmal, daughter of John Kay of Manchester to survive infancy. One brother, James, became a London solicitor, another, Kay, died in the East Indies in 1801. Her parents died about 1781, when she was adopted by an uncle, also John Kay, a Manchester solicitor.
Questions and answers
Richmal Mangnall began to attend a successful school of about 70 pupils, at Crofton Hall, a Georgian mansion near Wakefield, Yorkshire, built in about 1750. There it was found possible for a teacher or senior pupil to teach big classes using a system of question and answer. She herself graduated from being a pupil to being a teacher there. The first edition of her Historical and Miscellaneous Questions for the Use of Young People (1798) was printed privately and anonymously for use in the school. It was then taken up by the London publishing firm Longman, whose still anonymous 1800 edition was dedicated to John Kay.
The book became generally known as Mangnall's Questions and was "the stand-by of generations of governesses and other teachers." It had appeared in 84 editions by 1857. Its "level, plain, humane" judgments have been associated with the Age of Enlightenment, and became more open to criticism in the Victorian age, although the catechism type of textbook remained dominant. The British Constitution met with her approval, as did her country's abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, but Wellington was rebuked for vanity and egotism, and Rabelais for lacking "that delicacy without which genius may sparkle for a moment, but can never shine with pure, undiminished lustre."
Miss Mangnall took over at Crofton about 1808 and supported two unmarried sisters from her highly successful school and publishing earnings. She continued to head it until her death there on 1 May 1820 "after a severe illness, which was borne with the utmost Christian resignation." She was buried in Crofton churchyard.
Details of life at Crofton House school appear in an unpublished childhood diary of Elizabeth Firth (born 1797 at Thornton, near Bradford). It was her recommendation that persuaded Patrick Brontë to send his daughters Elizabeth, Mary, Charlotte, and Anne there for a short while in 1823. A later account of English social history recalls it as "one of the best known girls' schools" and states, "Here the girls learnt some literature, which consisted of Scott's longer poems and The Vicar of Wakefield, read aloud by Miss Mangnall herself, geography, spelling, the catechism, and a little pencil drawing. For bad spelling the young ladies were invariably sent to bed."
- ODNB entry: Retrieved 14 February 2012. Subscription required.
- Crofton village site: Retrieved 14 February 2012. Pictures of Crofton Hall can be found here: .
- ODNB entry.
- Geoffrey Treasure: Who's Who in Late Hanoverian Britain (1789-1837) (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 2nd e. 1997). ISBN 978-0-85683-137-9
- Leeds Intelligencer, 8 May 1820.
- ODNB entry.
- Brontë Museum site: Retrieved 14 February 2012.
- M. B. Synge: A Short History of Social Life in England (New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1930 ), p. 374.