New book on the life of Lady Helen

Lady Helen Hall, Lang-heidit lady
Lady Helen Hall, Lang-heidit lady

Lady Helen Hall, the wife of Sir James Hall 4th Baronet of Dunglass, is the subject of a new biography ‘Lady Helen Hall, lang-heidit lady’ written by author Sally Wilson.

As well as being wife of a local land owner, Lady Helen ran two grand households, was mother to 12 children, a society hostess, managed 90 estate properties and was part of an enlightened group of local geologists which included Dr James Hutton in the late 18th, early 19th century.

Sally’s book looks at the two different areas of Lady Helen’s life – home and family; and community and tenants.

The story centres on Cockburnspath and the hamlets surrounding Dunglass, at intervals it drifts into Edinburgh’s New Town and uses family correspondence and household accounts to give a flavour of life in Georgian times.

One of her daughters, Magdalene, wrote to her fiancé in a code which experts on both sides of the Atlantic have so far failed to decipher – so there’s a challenge for readers.

There is also a chapter about Lady Helen’s brother Thomas, 5th Earl of Selkirk; a philanthropist who promoted emigration at the time of the Highland Clearances, who funded ships to take the dispossessed to settlements on Prince Edward Island and Hudson Bay in Canada.

Lady Helen’s ancestor, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, has co-written the foreword to the book with his wife Dr Rosalind Marshall. He said: “Sally Wilson’s entertaining and well-written account is more than merely a straightforward biography, for by means of extensive extracts from family correspondence, household accounts and memorandum books, she makes us familiar with the smallest details of her subject’s life.”