Angela Thirkell & Family
Angela Mackail as a child, by her grandfather, Sir Edward Burne-Jones
Angela Thirkell (1890-1961), daughter of the classicist J W Mackail and granddaughter of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, sister of novelist Denis Mackail, and cousin of Rudyard Kipling and Stanley Baldwin, was educated at St Paul’s School for Girls and in Paris and Germany. In 1911 she married the singer James Campbell-McInnes, by whom she had two sons, Graham and Colin, and a daughter, Mary, who died in infancy. The marriage ended in a sensational divorce in 1917, and a year later she married George Thirkell, an Australian engineer who had served with the Australian Imperial Force at Gallipoli and in France. While convalescing at Glamis Castle he became friendly with Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
George Thirkell & the future Queen Mother
The Thirkells’ voyage to Australia on a converted troopship was material for her book, Trooper to the Southern Cross, 1934, written under the name of Leslie Parker. A third son, Lance, was born in Melbourne in 1921, but the marriage broke down and Angela returned to England with Lance in 1929, having borrowed the money from her godfather, J M Barrie, and began her career as a writer, achieving success with her first book Three Houses, in 1931, and later creating an imaginary world using places and families in Trollope’s Barsetshire set in the time in which she lived. These have now become valuable social history, covering the years just before and during WWII and the years of austerity afterwards. She severed all contact with George, but remained Mrs George Thirkell for the rest of her life, dying in a nursing home in Bramley, Surrey, in January 1961, and was buried at Rottingdean, beside the grave of her infant daughter.
Angela's grave at Rottingdean. It is the family's wish that the grave marker be left to weather
Angela Thirkell's eldest son, Graham McInnes, became a distinguished diplomat, art critic and novelist. His four volumes of autobiography give a memorable account of the family's life in 1920s Australia.
- Finding a Father
- Road to Gundagai
- Humping My Bluey
- Goodbye Melbourne Town
Angela Thirkell with her sons in the garden at 4 Grace Street, Malvern, Melbourne
Angela's second son, Colin, grew up to become the novelist Colin MacInnes, best known for City of Spades, Absolute Beginners, and Mr Love and Justice. His papers are held at the University of Rochester, New York.
Link to University of Rochester Archive
Link to fantasticfiction web site
Lance Thirkell (Lancelot George Allnut Thirkell). Third and apparently favourite son of Angela Thirkell by her second husband, the Australian George Thirkell. Born and growing up there with his two step-brothers, Graham and Colin MacInnes, he returned to England with his mother in 1929. Educated at Colet Court and St Paul's, and Magdalen College, Oxford, he was at first with the Foreign Office behind the Iron Curtain until forced to resign owing to ill-health, when he joined the BBC at the Aldwych. After a long career in the Overseas Service, on retirement he turned his energies to fund-raising for the New Bridge Association for befriending ex-offenders, of which he has both secretary and administrator. He also served on the boards of several other charitable and educational bodies. Efficient, hardworking but idiosyncratic, he married Kate Lowinsky in 1946 and had four children, Georgiana, Serena, Robert and Thomas. He was concerned to maintain the literary memory of his mother, whose reputation had declined after her death as had that of her Pre-Raphaelite painter grandfather, Sir Edward Burne-Jones.
He collaborated with his mother-in-law, Ruth Lowinsky, to produce Russian Food for Pleasure, 1953. His novel A Garden Full of Weeds was published in 1962, and, deeply upset by the criticism of his mother after the publication of Margot Strickland’s biography, he published Baby, Mother and Grandmother in 1982, and the text of a talk entitled The Assassination of an Authoress, how the critics took my mother to the laundry, in 1984. The Angela Thirkell Society published Melbourne and London, a Childhood Memoir, in 2000.
He died in 1989.