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Magdalen King-Hall

The Ardmore Journal

9. Magdalen King-Hall

Text: Edited by J.T. Quain, from material supplied by Richard Perceval Maxwell.
Typed By: Ursula Ansell

Magdalen King-Hall is best remembered in Ardmore as the author of 'How Small A Part Of Time' a novel based on life at Ardo House (now known as 'McKenna's'), England, and the continent during the French Revolution, another novel on the 'Life And Death Of The Wicked Lady Skelton' was subsequently made into a film, The Wicked Lady, starring Margaret Lockwood and James Mason.

Magdalen, the younger daughter of Admiral Sir George King-Hall, was born in London on 22nd July 1904. As a Navel officer's daughter, she spent her early years in a number of countries, including Ireland at Cobh. Between 1911- 1913 she lived in Australia, where her father was commander in chief. He retired from the navy in 1913 and the family went to live in Hove, near Brighton.

Magdalen went to two boarding schools, firstly Downe House and then St. Leonard's near St. Andrews. After the war she went to Switzerland to improve her French. Her mother Olga King-Hall, nee Ker (an Northern Irish family) was very internationally minded, having been brought up in Italy and in fact once, as a child, sat on Garibaldi's knee.

In 1924 at the age of 20 she wrote, under the nom de plume of Cleone Knox, 'The Diary Of A Young Lady Of Fashion'. This book was one of the literary sensations of the 1920's, as at first the diary was thought to be genuine and its discovery was compared in importance with the finding of the Pepys Diaries.

Her career in journalism followed the publication of her first book, she wrote for the Daily Express and Evening Standard, her articles being mainly light-hearted commentaries on the contemporary scene. She also did theatre reviews.

Writing seems to have been a very natural activity in the King-Hall family. Sir George's sister wrote a successful children's book in the 19th century and his wife Olga wrote a few novels some of which were in Italian. Magdalen's brother Stephen, and sister, Lou, also wrote. Stephen (later Lord) King-Hall was a well known journalist, political commentator and playwright. Lou King-Hall wrote several novels in the 1940's and co-authored one book – 'The well meaning Young Man' – with her sister Magdalen. Lou also wrote 'Sea Saga' in the 1930's. This is the edited diaries of four generations of naval King-Hall's from about 1800 to 1920.

After an active career in journalism, Magdalen married Patrick Perceval Maxwell in 1929. They were distant cousins, being connected through the Ker family. As a matter of interest Magdalen was also a second cousin once removed of Winston Churchill, again through the Ker family. They first met at a family party in County Down in about 1920, when Magdalen was sixteen. As cousins, they continued to meet, but the actual courtship, during one of Patrick's leaves from the Sudan, was quite brief.

The next few years were spent in the Sudan where Patrick Perceval Maxwell worked for the Sudan Cotton Plantation Syndicate. In 1932 they returned to England and for a few years lived in London before moving to Co. Down, N. Ireland, where Patrick farmed near his family home. They had three children, Richard Stephen born in London in 1930. Alastair Patrick born in London in 1937, and Brigid Louise born in Downpatrick, Co. Down in 1940.

'How Small A Part Of Time' published in 1946, is based on the 18th century lives of Anne and Eliza Coughlan of Ardo House, near Ardmore. Richard Perceval Maxwell wrote as follows:

I have special memories of my mother's research for this book as it involved me in the longest bicycle ride that I have ever made. We were staying at Headborough with our cousins, the Smyth's, and as there was no petrol we had to bicycle from Headborough to Ardmore to look at the ruins of Ardo House. I also remember that while we were recovering from our exertions in a café between Youghal and Ardmore, we heard on the radio that Italy had surrendered.

During the 1940's and 1950's Magdalen King-Hall wrote many successful novels. In 1943 she wrote the 'Life And Death Of The Wicked Lady Skelton'.

'Tea At Crumbo Castle' published in 1949 is a dramatic story about the tragic life of an Anglo Irish family. Although the book does not say so, the setting, but not the events described, is in fact based on Strancally Castle on the Blackwater near Knockanore. She wrote a number of other books with an Irish setting, and two books drawing on her experience in the Sudan. She also wrote the 'Story of the Nursery'.

Known as Madge to her friends, Magdalen King-Hall was small in stature. She had a kind gentle nature with a dry sense of humour. Her interests were mainly intellectual, particularly literature and history. She had a great love of Ireland and a good knowledge of its history.

In 1952 the family moved to Headborough, a beautiful early Georgian country house which stands on a hillside in Co. Waterford, overlooking the spot where the river Bride flows into the Blackwater. The photographs included here were taken in the 1950's at Headborough. They lived in Headborough until Patrick Edward Perceval Maxwell died in 1968 aged 67. His wife Magdalen died in 1971 aged 66. They are buried in the Fountain churchyard nearby.

Headborough House and how the family came there is perhaps of interest to the reader. It was formerly the seat of the Smyth's of Headborough, a branch of the Smyth family of nearby Ballynatray. The house dates partly from the 17th century but was largely remodelled by the Rev. Percy Smyth soon after his marriage to Catherine Odell in 1827. As well as renovating Headborough, he also built a summer residence, now Monatray House Hotel. Headborough was left to their son Percy Smyth (1839 – 1910)

In 1865 Percy Smyth married Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Perceval Maxwell of Finnebrogue, Co. Down by his wife Helena Anne Moore of Moore Hill near Tallow. Although the Smyth's had three sons there were no further descendants. On his death in 1946 Rivers Smyth, the youngest son of that union, left Headborough to his cousin Patrick Perceval Maxwell, however his widow Lyna Smyth continued to live at Headborough until 1952.

A poignant story about Percy and Mary Smyth is that they died within three days of each other in March 1910. On returning from the funeral of his wife across the mountains between Youghal and Knockanore, Percy disembarked from his carriage to make the hill easier for the horses. The exertions of the climb and perhaps the emotions of the day gave him a heart attack and he died on the way back from his wife's funeral.

The Works Of Magdalen King-Hall
Diary Of A Young Lady Of Fashion 1764-5 (1925)
After attempting to elope, the heroine Cleone Knox is taken away from Ireland on a tour of fashionable venues of England and the continent before the final happy ending.

I Think I Remember (1927)
This book has the sub-title 'Being the Random Recollections of Sir Wickham Woolicomb, An ordinary English snob and gentleman.

The Well-meaning Young Man (1930) (with Lou King-Hall)

In a 1920s setting.  The amusing adventures of a young and rather irresponsible young Irishman, travelling from his home in Southern Ireland to take up a job in Sicily.  Most of the action takes place in a castle in Germany.

Gay Crusaders (1934)
An historical novel set at the end of the 12th Century, about the 3rd Crusade.

Jehan Of The Ready Fists (1936)
A children's book.  Set at the time of the 3rd Crusade at the end of the 12th Century.  After many adventures the hero becomes the page to Richard I, Coeur de Lion and shares his capitivity in Austria.

Maid of Honour (1936)
The background is 16th Century England and Ireland. Following a secret marriage, the heroine is forced to also marry an Irish Chieftain Teig O' Roig. During the Desmond rising she escapes and rejoins her original husband.

Lady Sarah (1939)
Set in the 2nd half of the 18th century, this romantic historical novel, tells the story of Lady Sarah Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond. Lady Sarah, who was a great beauty and nearly became the wife of George III, was involved in one of the great matrimonial scandals of the 1760's. She married as her second husband George Napier and according to the historian Trevelyan became "mother of the most illustrious family of heroes that ever graced the roll of the British Army".

Sturdy Rogue (1941)
A children's book set in Elizabethan England. A young boy from a well-to-do family runs away from home when his mother remarries. He lives with the beggar community in London. The story ends happily when he is reunited with his family.

Somehow Overdone (1942)
The author's memoirs of her time in the Sudan, where her husband worked for the Sudan Cotton Plantation Syndicate.

Lord Edward (1943)
A novel about the United Irish Leader, Lord Edward Fitzgerald and his wife Pamela.

Life And Death Of The Wicked Lady Skelton (1944)
Based on actual events in the 17th Century, this is the story of Barbara Skelton, her secret partnership with a highwayman and her appalling crimes.

How Small A Part Of Time (1946)
Sub-titled 'The biography of the two beautiful Miss Lynch's of Cabragena' the story is based on the lives of the Coughlan sisters of Ardo House near Ardmore. It was published in the United States as 'The Lovely Lynch's'.

Lady Shane's Daughter (1947)
When Lady Shane separated from her husband in 1787 she went with her daughter Lucilla to live in Europe, in Paris, Venice, Russia and Germany. Lady Shane remarried to Karl Augustus Margrave of Ehrenbach and Duke of Prussia, and Lucilla eloped with Harry Brenan, Captain of his Majesty's Ship 'Fortunate'.

Tea At Crumbo Castle (1949)
The narrator is invited to tea at Crumbo Castle by old Mrs Toye and there sees the ghost of a young woman. The rest of the book is a flash back to 1878.

The Fox Sisters (1950)
A reconstruction of the lives of two sisters who lived in new England in the 1840's, who became notorious as professional mediums. Fierce controversy pursued them throughout their careers as they were hailed either as harbingers of a new religion – the spiritualist faith, or as impostors.

The Edifying Bishop (1951)
The story of the eccentric Frederick Hervey, Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry. The title 'edifying' was a nickname given to him because of his passion for building houses.

Venetian Bride (1954)
Ireland and Venice in the 18th Century form the background of this love story about Ned Gascoigne who inherits his father's title, estate and debts.

Hag Khalida (1954)
Hag Khalida was the name of a house on the Sudan Cotton Plantation. A young married couple move in and the story tells how a tragedy re-enacts itself.

18th Century Story (1956)
Founded on the fact, this novel is packed with drama and incident including an elopement and a duel. The last trial of a nobleman by his peers in the Irish House of Lords in Dublin forms a fitting climax.

Story Of The Nursery (1958)
A history of the Nursery from the Middle Ages to the present day.

The Noble Savages (1962)
The eccentric Landlord Mr Crumlin is given the opportunity to try out the educational theories of Rousseau when his fickle sweet-heart's son Jonathan is left in his care. He realises it will also be necessary to provide an ideal wife for the boy. The setting is on the Blackwater in Co. Waterford and in Brighton. It includes a description of the Pattern at Ardmore.

Author: Siobhán Lincoln

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