Look back in time to Shopping in Ashton

The corner shop is a feature in many towns but has changed enormously over the years.  The recent BBC programme, Back in Time for the Corner Shop, shows how businesses change and developed.  We are currently  limited with where we go and buy are food and the corner shop remains important. The Tameside Local Studies and Archives Senior Librarian has researched shopping in Ashton using the archives and also her memories of her family owned corner shop.

Early Markets
Ashton has always had a role as a commercial centre for the surrounding area. The town may have been granted a charter as early as 1284, but there is evidence of a market being set up in 1413 and from this time Ashton’s importance as a trading centre grew steadily.

t04757 hat shop
Hardy’s hat shop on Market Street early 1900s

Until fairly recent times a visit to Manchester was a major outing for local people involving considerable expense. This meant that local towns had to supply a wide range of goods- Ashton had its own Venetian blind maker in 1870’s.

Shops specialised in particular goods to a much greater extent than today, with very few items being pre-packed.

While a visit to Ashton was necessary for major purchases corner shops, carrying an enormous range of goods, were open all hours to supply their immediate neighbourhood. These shops would sell very small quantities for people who could not afford to buy more. They were often family businesses and the assistants were younger members of the family learning the trade.

John Kelly on his Ashton Market Stall c1950s


2 shopkeepers behind their shop counter
Shopkeepers in Ashton, 1969

Nowadays, most items are pre-packed which we have to try and recycle to help prevent huge landfill sites that will create havoc for future generations.

Ashton’s importance as a shopping centre continues today, although there have been changes as Stamford Street.

The once busy shopping area of Victorian and Edwardian times has declined whilst the precinct and arcade areas have developed.

People do not have to leave their house to shop, everything can be delivered to the door when they shop online.  No longer do we go and chat to the shopkeeper who passes on the latest gossip about the neighbour down the road.

Food used to be sold loose and weighed into paper bags, that when finished with would be thrown on the fire. Glass milk bottles and pop bottles used to be returned to the shop mainly by children to get pennies back, which would be spent on sweets. Bacon would come in a long roll, which could be cut on the meat slicer into the desired thickness or weight and wrapped in paper, as was the cheese and cooked meats.

two shopkeepers behind their corner shop counter
Inside a corner shop, 1969

Jill Morris writes,

When I was a child I lived with my parents in a corner shop (pictured above). My brother and I had jobs that we had to do, we had to help bring in the goods from the car when my dad had been to the warehouse, I use to like going along with him and sit on the truck for a ride, while he piled it with items to sell. I use to fill up shelves with stock mainly the crisps and cigarettes. We also had to go down into the cellar and bag up potatoes. We sat on a wooden crate in front of a set of scales and took the potatoes from a large sack and put them into a plastic bag, making sure the scale only dropped down when it weighed 5lb. Each Saturday morning, while my dad was at the warehouse,  I had to mop the shop floor and wait for the bread man-Les to arrive, I would let him in and he would deliver trays of sliced bread, then I would lock the door behind him. There were also perks  to living in a shop, we got to eat lot of sweets!’

In the Local Studies & Archive Centre we have shopkeepers day books dating back the the nineteenth century. They give an insight to the daily routines and what people were buying at that time. You can take a look at our catalogue  to see what we have available in the archives. Keep notes of what you would like to see once we re-open.

One of the items we have is a shopkeepers day book from the papers of George Williamson, a shopkeeper from Ashton-under-Lyne, dated from 1808-1834. Shopkeepers would write down the recipes of items they would make to sell in their shop. Although it couldn’t be made today, it sounds like a recipe for a kind of gobstopper to make your tongue black!

A recipe found in a shopkeepers day book. DD333/6

A Liquid for Blacking Ball

One pint of vinegar or good Aligan
4 ounces of Ivory Black
4 ounces sweet oil
4 ounces of treacle
Mix as follows:
Treacle and vinegar, scalded together
Ivory black and oil mixed into a paste
Then mix altogether put into a bottle & corked up

If you have any memories of the corner shop and how it has changed over the years, please do get in touch with us by email localstudies.library@tameside.gov.uk.

For more information and latest news, please go to our website which has links to our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Plush velvet seats and cloche hats – a look at the cinema experience in 1920s Britain

Newspaper advert for The New Picture Pavilion screenings, March 20th 1920.  Ashton Reporter on microfilm in the Tameside Local Studies & Archive Centre

More than a building!
As soon as wartime building restrictions were lifted in 1919, construction work began on large ‘super cinemas’ around the country, often with more than 2000 seats known as ‘Picture Palaces’. The exteriors of these buildings were extravagant, gaudy and flamboyant.  The interiors were modelled in a number of styles favouring Art Deco or using features of Indian and Egyptian architecture.  By the end of the 1920s the British film industry had become big business.

For a few pence you could leave your worries behind and be transported to another world.  People-mainly women-attended the films regularly, often going more than once a week, wearing their best clothes in many cases including the iconic cloche hat.

Film Night
Each of the silent films had full orchestral accompaniment, often with live performers and props to set the scene. The films played continuously throughout opening times and people could ‘drop in’ at various times of the day and evening. Film goers in the 1920s could not get enough of romance, comedy, horror and tales of ‘derring-do’. By the end of World War 1 the vast majority of films came from Hollywood. Well known films included ‘The Gold Rush’ a comedy with Charlie Chaplin, ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, a Gothic horror film and ‘The Eagle’, a romance with Rudolph Valentino.

Star struck!
These silent films of the 1920s produced an array of famous film stars with their lives portrayed through newspapers, and fan magazines.  An aura of glamour, mystery and romance surrounded them- there was no social media to dispel this!  Famous names included Gloria Swanson, Charlie Chaplin,  Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, Joan Crawford and John Barrymore.



More local

The New Picture Pavilion, Old Street in Ashton-under-Lyne was the first purpose built cinema in the area, opening in 1912, and proved very popular with Ashton inhabitants.  It finally closed as a cinema on October 8th, 1966, sadly becoming a bingo hall, social club and finally a furniture store.  At least remnants of its former glory still remain if one looks hard enough.

Bingo Hall-Formally the New Picture Pavilion, 1995

You can get in touch with us by email localstudies.library@tameside.gov.uk.

For more information and latest news, please go to our website which has links to our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Trouble at t’mill

Devastating Fire at Oxford Mill- Ashton-Under-Lyne

After 170 years the sad destruction of the Oxford Mill by the fire that took place on 6th August 2019 has filled many with such sorrow. For those who ran their businesses from the mill many may face financial ruin, however it is a great relief that no one was physically injured. The fire was so fierce that fire personnel were there four days later damping down the embers, with the acrid smell of smoke still lingering from a distance away.


The first part of the six storey mill on the North-East side was built by Thomas Mason in 1845, and after huge success he expanded and built another mill on the South-West side in 1851, adding a five storey office and warehouse building in-between in 1863. Thomas’s sons Henry, Booth and Hugh all worked in the mill from being young boys but gradually Hugh assumed sole control by the age of 45 years. Hugh served as an apprentice at the District Savings Bank, gaining experience that would stand him in good stead for this future business success.

Oxford mills were in the production of spinning cotton and at its height Thomas Mason & Sons had 75,000 mule spindles and was employing 418 people.

Even during the cotton famine of 1861-65 the company continued to keep their employees in work where many were being laid off or put on short time. His workers raised money to help those who were in need at that time.


t04327 Hugh Mason                  t04567 Oxford Mill from canal

Hugh wanted to continue with his father’s philosophy of looking after his workers, so much so that he created a ‘community’ for them, providing housing and recreational activities. In 1871 he also gave his workers the whole of Saturday afternoon off, reducing their hours to fifty eight per week. This was unheard of and upset many fellow cotton employers, who thought they would have to do the same in their mills. Hugh stood his ground and said that if he wanted the best from his workers then he must look after their welfare.

He provided recreation rooms known as ‘The Institute’ at a cost of £4,500 (£263,000- 2019) which included a library, smoking room and chess room. Later he added a swimming pool, hot and cold baths and room for holding lectures and classes for his workers to improve themselves. There were sewing classes, singing and music lessons including the Oxford Reed Band. Finally a sports ground and gymnasium were added to the community. Mason’s workers were the envy of the town.

t01908 Oxford Institute        t04585 Oxford Mill weaver


However the other side of the coin to all this philanthropy was what he wished from his workers in return. He was a man of strong principles – he hated alcohol, gambling, and the theatre, Tories, Trade Unions and The Church of England. He attended Albion Chapel and would sit at the back to see who was present and who was absent. If any man refrained from work Hugh Mason would call for their wife who had to explain the cause, if it was for the worse of drink there would be trouble. The wife would be told of the consequences.

Martin Clark


Hugh Mason became the first Liberal elected councillor for Ashton-under-Lyne in November 1856. As well as being a councillor, Mason was also elected a local magistrate for Ashton-under-Lyne in 1857. Although he was a reluctant politician he stood for Parliament in the 1880 General Elections. He led the women’s suffrage movement until 1883 but illness forced him to abstain from public life temporarily. In the 1885 General Election he lost to the Conservative John Wentworth Addison by 3,152 votes to 3,104. Mason demanded a recount, but this increased the majority by one vote; he succumbed to illness and died before the result was announced.


Martin Clark

Hugh Mason became the first Liberal elected councillor for Ashton-under-Lyne in November 1856. As well as being a councillor, Mason was also elected a local magistrate for Ashton-under-Lyne in 1857. Although he was a reluctant politician he stood for Parliament in the 1880 General Elections. He led the women’s suffrage movement until 1883 but illness forced him to abstain from public life temporarily. In the 1885 General Election he lost to the Conservative John Wentworth Addison by 3,152 votes to 3,104. Mason demanded a recount, but this increased the majority by one vote; he succumbed to illness and died before the result was announced.

The company was sold in 1946 to Sandoz Products Ltd, but still traded under the Mason name. It finally closed as a cotton mill in 1960. In the 1970’s H.R. Howard’s ‘knicker’ factory worked from the north-east mill, and Moorlite Electrical Ltd from the south-west mill.

More Fires

In 1849 the Manchester Guardian newspaper tells of a smaller fire that happened- ‘On the evening last (May 16 1849), a fire broke out in the warehouse of Messrs. Thomas Mason & Sons, Oxford Mills, Ashton. An alarm was instantly given and the hands who lived in the immediate vicinity of the mills soon assembled, and succeeded in extinguishing the fire before the engines could arrive, but not before a table and part of a desk and a window were consumed. As soon as the alarm reached the town, Mr J. W. Boulton, agent to the West of England Office, got his engine out and proceeded without horses towards the scene of the fire, but was met by a messenger telling him the fire was out.’

Manchester Guardian 8 Nov 1946

An Ashton boy aged 15yrs was accused of arson at Ashton Juvenile court, he admitted an alleged statement that he was responsible for starting six fires that caused damage estimated at £67,000 at Oxford Mill, Ashton. In an alleged statement which was read to the magistrate the boy said ‘I set fire to the mill because I do not like working there, and I thought if it burned I should not have to go back to work there’.

Further reading

You can find out more about Oxford Mill and the company of Thomas Mason & Sons from Tameside Local Studies & Archive Centre, Cotton St East, Ashton-U-Lyne OL6 7BY. You can also find more photographs at http://www.tameside.gov.uk/history



Intriguing find in the Manchester Regiment Archives

I’m a volunteer at Tameside Local Studies and Archives and I am currently working with documents from the Manchester Regiment Archives in Ashton under Lyne. As I lift the lid on each box there is a sense of excitement, what will I find in here?

I was working my way through a box of correspondence when I found a copy of a letter written by a mother to her son in 1915.  It was sent to him at the British Expeditionary Force, he was in the 1/9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment.

Leonard Broadhurst letter image

December 1915

My dear Leonard,

How is it you have not sent any letters it’s now over 4 weeks since I had one and that was wrote on the 26 October. I hope you are well I have sent 3 parcels and 2 letters and had no reply. I hope there is nothing wrong with you, they have all had letters round about 2 and 3, some of them. Mrs Fernley has had a telegram saying that Jim has been dangerously wounded, write back at once and let me know how you are, I am looking out for the post every day. Your father is in France. I am very sorry about Jim but you ought not to have gone out, you are both too young, and you are younger than him. Auntie and our Edie send their best love, Accept the same from me and God bless you and spare you is my fervent wish and bring you safely home soon. Your mother

I have had a postcard from J Smethurst asking how you was I told him I had had no letters for a long time and I told him about family. You see his father has stopped him from going out and he was willing to stop, you see he has more sense than you, it would be alright if you was old enough but you are so young, you see there are big men who won’t go until they are made and you throw yourself away at 15 years of age. But I hope you will get your discharge until you are 19 that will be soon enough. Write back as soon as you can and let me know how you are as I am very anxious to know so I think this will be all this time

With best love from

x x x Mother x x x

x x x God bless you x x x

I was tearful by the end of the letter. What had happened to him, had he died?  How awful for his mother to be waiting at home to hear from a 15 year old, gone to fight for his country.  I knew I had to find out more about him and his family.

I started to research him on military and family history records and soon found he was from my own town of Ashton under Lyne. He was an iron worker who lived on Warre Street with his father, mother and two sisters.  He enlisted on 11th January 1915 just 3 days after his 15th birthday.  He told them he was 19 and documents show his height as 5ft 7 ins. His mother’s letter was addressed to him as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, he was sent out in September 1915. He was listed among the soldiers of the 9th Battalion who landed at Gallipoli on 22 October 1915. Military documents show he was discovered to be under age in March 1916 and transferred to a Reserve Unit and shortly was returned to England

I was very pleased to find this information, what a relief.  His mother would have been delighted to have him safely home. There was sad news as well, his sister Alice had died of appendicitis in August 1915 at the age of 12. His father James had enlisted in April 1915 and was still in France. He was wounded in the leg by a shell and discharged on medical grounds in August 1917 so father and son had survived the war.

I wondered about his friend Jim Fernley and what had happened to him.  Jim lived on Tatton Street and had also enlisted in the 9th Battalion. He died of wounds on 4th December 1915 in Egypt and I managed to find a newspaper report of the time

Published in the Reporter 25th December 1915.


Newspaper Headline James R Fernley

 “He seemed such a child to have given his life for his country; his mother has my deepest regret and my sincerest sympathy.” was the concluding sentence in a letter which Mrs. Clara Fernley, of 48, Tatton Street, Ashton, received from Nurse Clara E. Cherry, 21st General Hospital, Alexandria, writing breaking the news that Private 3281 JAMES  FERNLEY had died from wounds. In last weeks issue of the Reporter it was stated that Private JAMES FERNLEY of the Ashton Territorials, had been reported very dangerously ill at Alexandria. Nurse Cherry wrote: – “Your little lad was admitted into my care on Wednesday, December 1st. He was very seriously ill indeed, having been shot through the lungs. He was quite conscious, gave me your address, and wanted me to send a postcard home. I think he realised that he was not going to get better. We did all we could for him. He suffered very little pain, only his breathing became weaker. His mother’s name was on his lips all the time. He passed quietly away at 11.50.” An official intimation of Private FERNLEY’S death has also been received.  In a letter from Private H. FERNLEY, brother of Private JAMES FERNLEY, who is also with the Ashton Territorials in the Transport Section, further details are given of the way Private J. FERNLEY was injured. He says: – ” JIM has not much chance. They were having a bit of a rough time, and the Turks sent a grenade over their trench, and from what I am told it did a great deal of damage, wounding about ten, and killing one – AARON JONES. JIM was wounded.” Private FERNLEY worked as a piecer in Oldham, and was his mother’s main support. He could not bear to see other men in khaki and walk the streets himself, and accordingly he joined the TerritorialsHe was only 18 years of age.  (James R Fernley is buried in Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery).

This is not the end of the story, Leonard Broadhurst enlisted again in 1918 when he was 18 and now 3 inches taller. He joined the Royal Marine Light Infantry and served until he was demobbed in June 1919. I felt quite proud of him by now, to have gone to war at fifteen was a very brave thing to do. He could have left at any time, just telling them he was under age would have meant an automatic discharge but he carried on.

His mother’s letter must have been passed to Tameside Archives by family members. The memories of the brave men who fought in the Great War are revived each time words are written of them. Every person reading these words honours and remembers them.

Being A Family History Detective

I started researching my family history about 7 years ago and soon realised why so many people find it totally addictive. I have always been the sort of person who likes looking for things, the internet has made this so much easier and I jumped in with both feet!

My husband’s family came from Ashton so I started with them as I thought searching locally would be easier. It became a labour of love and these distant ancestors became real people to me – so much so that when reading about historical events I automatically view them in terms of which members of the family were alive at that time.

I started with basic information. My mother in law was born on Curzon Road, Ashton and I knew the names of her family members. This enabled me to find the family on the 1911 census which was my starting point. Tracking back the same names over the 1901, 1891 and 1881 censuses was fascinating. Addresses, occupations, finding family members living close to each other over the years and following their lives was absorbing. I realised that I was more interested in how they lived their lives than merely finding a list of names which stretched back a long way but held no substance, no imagery to me.

I have a favourite person in this family tree. She is my husband’s great, great grandmother Agnes Lee who was born near Kendal in the Lake District. She is my favourite because I found her in Belle Vue Gaol in Manchester in the 1851 census. Her husband and children were at 29 King Street, Manchester, where they were living in the cellar of a jeweller’s shop. Benjamin Lee, her husband, was a porter for the jeweller Henry Whittington and he allowed the family to live in the cellar.

I managed to find prison records showing she had been jailed for larceny and been sentenced to 6 months hard labour at Belle Vue Gaol but there was no more information. I researched newspaper reports from 1851 and managed to find details of the family being brought to the Borough Court

The Manchester Courier, and Lancashire General Advertiser Saturday 1 February 1851

Robberies from a Jeweller’s shop

A little girl, named Mary Jane Lee, having within the last two months pledged various small articles of jewellery at the shop of Mr Kenyon, pawnbroker, of Garside Street, that gentleman suspected they were not honestly obtained, and communicated his fears to Mr Beswick, the chief superintendent of police. In consequence, when the girl visited Mr Kenyon’s on Saturday last, she was detained until Inspector Maybury was sent for, and that officer (himself unobserved), watched her home, and found that she was the daughter of a porter, in the employ of Mr Whittington, jeweller and silversmith, of King Street.

From inquiries instituted, it came out that the girl and her parents resided on Mr Whittington’s premises, occupying a cellar under the shop, and a sleeping room in the attic, and the girl, after some evasion, confessed that the jewellery pledged by her was the property of Mr Whittington, and had been given to her to dispose of by her mother. When interrogated by Mr Beswick, the mother [Agnes Lee], confirmed her child’s statement, observing that she would not attempt to shield her own guilt; adding that she had stolen the property unknown to her husband, who was entirely innocent.  Directing Mr Beswick to look in a certain spot, where the key of a Chubb’s patent lock was found, which opened an inner door leading into Mr Whittington’s shop, she said that, unknown to her husband, she had procured the key, and with it had frequently got inside the shop and stolen articles which she had sent her little girl to pledge. Notwithstanding that the woman disclaimed any guilty knowledge on the part of her husband, Mr Beswick took the whole family into custody, and on Monday they were brought up at the Borough Court to answer the charge.

Evidence of the facts stated above being adduced, and Mr Whittington having identified a gold pencil case, gold guard, six shirt studs, and two silver fruit knives, as his property (all of which were produced by Mr Kenyon, pawnbroker, as having been pledged by the little girl), the prisoners were respectively asked what they had to say. The husband [Benjamin Lee] (whom Mr Whittington, the prosecutor, said had been in his employment for seven years) said, he was quite innocent of the charge, and bursting into tears, said he could not tell whatever had induced his wife to act as she had done.  She had ever been a kind good wife, and he was greatly distressed that she should have robbed Mr Whittington, for he had behaved towards the family like a father. Here the wife and girl began to cry – Mr Walker asked if there was any reason to suspect the husband – Mr Whittington: Oh no; I have every confidence in him. The father and daughter were then discharged, Mr Whittington telling the former to go back to his duty at once, and the wife Agnes Lee, was committed for trial at the sessions

Mr Whittington’s generosity meant the family could continue at 29 King Street where they remained for another 4 years. Mary Jane, who was 11, had a brother, also called Benjamin, age 9, who was not taken to court. Agnes was sentenced to 6 months hard labour in Belle Vue Gaol, on Hyde Road in Gorton, she was released on 13 August 1851.  I wondered what had caused her to steal the items, from the report it seemed out of character. Why did Mr Whittington allow the family to return to the shop when Agnes had stolen from him, it didn’t make any sense?

Further research revealed that Agnes was about 7 months pregnant at the time of her court appearance and the baby was born in prison on 8 March 1851. The baby, called Thomas was baptised in September and his date of birth given on the baptism record. He is the only one of Agnes and Benjamin’s children not to have a birth registered.

I was able to trace other children born to Agnes and Benjamin before Thomas was born.  Her youngest child at the time of her court appearance was Benjamin, then age 9, born in 1842.  In the following years she gave birth to 2 children who died before they were 2 months old.  This would probably explain the reasons for acting as she did. Agnes had a sister, Jane whose husband was a joiner at the Manchester Royal Infirmary when it was situated in Piccadilly Gardens, and the family lived at the Infirmary. Maybe Agnes wanted the money to provide help for the new baby?

Mr Whittington would also be aware of the deaths of the babies, perhaps this was the reason he let Benjamin keep his job. I had originally thought that Thomas had done well to survive in prison, but maybe he was lucky that he was in prison. Women who gave birth in prison could keep their babies with them, providing they were breastfeeding, sometimes until the end of their sentences and they would have had access to regular meals.

My mother in law had always told me that the house she was born in was owned by rich relatives who lived in Lytham but she had no further knowledge of them. I was interested to see how family members who came from such a poor background could have ended up owning blocks of houses in Ashton.  I tracked forwards to 1856 when their youngest daughter Hannah was born in Cowcill Street and Benjamin’s occupation was now Railway Porter, they had moved nearer to Oxford Road Station, perhaps he worked there?  By 1861 they had moved to Gorton and Benjamin was still listed as a Porter. His son, also Benjamin was now 19 and was working as a Solicitors Clerk. Was this their route out of poverty?

It was. Benjamin Lee continued to work as a Solicitors Clerk for his whole career and he moved to the outskirts of town, first to Stretford and then to Levenshulme. He started buying property and in 1871 and 1881 he owned the properties where his mother and father lived in Gorton. Agnes’s husband Benjamin died in 1884 and it was not long before Agnes moved to Ashton under Lyne, where two of her daughters were already living. She lived in Bengal Cottage on Alfred Street and her daughters were around the corner on Curzon Road.  Her youngest daughter Hannah ran a draper’s shop on Curzon Road.  Her son Benjamin owned 10 houses on Curzon Road and also owned property in the Levenshulme area.  Benjamin’s daughters later moved to the Lytham area and my mother in law’s family were living in the properties on Curzon Road until the 1950s.

The one person missing from this story is the baby born in prison in 1851, Thomas. He lived with his parents in Gorton and worked at the London and North West Railway yards at Longsight as an engine fitter. In 1874 he joined the Royal Navy and stayed there until 1895. He then worked as Acting Assistant Prison Warder at the Royal Naval Prison in Lewes in Sussex and became Principal Warden.

Now you can see why Agnes is my favourite person. I could never have imagined at the start that I would ever be able to find out so much detail about events that happened over 150 years ago. The shop at 29 King Street has been a jeweller’s shop ever since. Mr Whittington died in 1874 and his son took over the business, various others followed and now it has been in the Hancock family from 1900 to today. It is not the same building but it is in the same place. It was a very strange feeling standing looking at it for the first time, imagining all the things that had happened.

Perhaps this story will tempt you to research your own family history, I cannot promise you will find anything but hopefully you will have as much fun as I have had!


1851 Census Agnes in Belle Vue Prison


Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 1 February 1851


Benjamin Lee 1851 Census 29 King Street, Manchester


Belle Vue Gaol 1870




Manchester Rate Books

Tameside Local Studies and Archives

Michelle Higgs. Prison Life in Victorian England

GRO Birth Marriage and Death Indexes

Manchester Central Library and Archives

Cheshire BMD

Lancashire BMD

Lancashire Online Parish Clerks http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/index.html

Bonnets, Lunches and Literary Works – a visit to Elizabeth Gaskell House

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell 1810 -1865

On Monday 12th November 2018 ‘Tameside Bobbin’ Club’ visited the house of Elizabeth Gaskell the 19th Century novelist. She lived at 84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester with her husband and four daughters. They’d moved from Knutsford, and brought along their cow which they also kept along with a pig and some chickens and grew many vegetables and flowers in the garden surrounding the house.

Elizabeth took up writing at her husband’s suggestion after the death of her baby son. Her husband William was a non-conformist preacher and their house was always open to the parish and their many friends. Elizabeth especially was very hospitable and took an active interest in the running of the house.  The one thing that eluded her was a permanent cook- these were very hard to find and Elizabeth was not very successful in retaining their services.

The house has been lovingly restored to represent the time when the family lived there. After the death of her parents, Elizabeth in 1865 and William in 1884, Margaret Emily known as Meta, the second daughter, remained unmarried and stayed at Plymouth Grove till her death in 1913. She sold off many of the pieces and the hunt is on to find them again. Some have already been returned which is very exciting for the restoration which is ongoing. The carpets, wall-coverings and curtains are not original but all use patterns from the period. In fact Elizabeth in some of her diaries and letters actually describes the various wallpapers that were used and some of the furniture that was bought when they moved to Plymouth Grove in 1850.


William’s study houses books that the family would have read and his desk is covered with copies of the church magazine which he spent many hours editing, this is also where he taught his many students from the parish.

Passing the large staircase you enter a large lounge decorated grandly with original pictures and a semi-grand piano that was played by Elizabeth and her daughters.

The room is set for tea with a lovely table in front to the fire place. Costumes are available to wear to get into the spirit of the time and entertain your many guests as the Gaskells did.



Through into the dining room with wooden floors, a large bay window fills one end of the room from floor to ceiling. The table is set for dinner with all the courses laid at the table together, as was fitting for the time. You can sit at the table and imagine being there.

Elizabeth wrote many letters which vividly describe family life, the holidays they took and her passionate interest in the society of the period which was undergoing rapid change. She is famous for writing Cranford, Ruth, North and South and Wives and Daughters. She also wrote the biography of her friend Charlotte Brontëimage00011

Upstairs there is an exhibition about the running of the house, detailing information about the servants and gardener. Elizabeth’s personal maid travelled with her when she took her lengthy holidays abroad with her daughters.

Downstairs there is a welcoming tea-room that serves delicious cakes and drinks; there is also a shop where you can buy souvenirs, Elizabeth’s books as well as many second-hand books with all funds going to the Gaskell Society.

The house is still being renovated and the Gaskell Society is currently raising money to rebuild the conservatory. To find out more about Elizabeth Gaskell, her family and house and the books she wrote visit the website http://elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk/ its definitely worth a visit.


Creating Stories

As part of the Sense of Place project, volunteers were asked to create short films using material they had come across whilst working at Tameside Local Studies and archives. They were shown during the end of event exhibition and subsequent open days, but we are now pleased to announce that they are available on YouTube.

The films are The Black Knight. This is a ballad written and read by volunteer John. After a trip to Portland Basin museum, John became interested in the tale of the Black Knight, which you can read about in an earlier post here. We also visited Chetham’s library to look at their collection of ballads and had a creative writing session from Harry Jelley, both which helped John to write his dramatic piece.

Norman became interested in Harry Rutherford, undertaking independent research away from the volunteer workshops and collecting many images. One of the tasks was to digitize parts of the Rutherford collections and from this he was able to select appropriate images in order to show a timeline of Harry Rutherford’s life.

Another skill that the volunteers had training in was to help them undertake oral history interviews. They were able to interview each other and Lisa talked about Growing up In Tameside. She selected some images from the collections in order to create a short film.

We discovered the George had worked in the Mills when he was younger. George looked through the image collection and selected some images of which were then used with his interview about his experience of Working the Mills.

To create the banners and broadsheet for the exhibition, the volunteers worked over a number of weeks with artist Mitch Robinson from Artden. This short film shows the process and end result of their Printing Workshops.

There is also the film created as an introduction to using Tameside Local Studies and Archives which can be found here.

The work undertaken, increased interest and development of skills that the volunteers developed through their time at Tameside Local Studies and Archives and has given them an insight into one of the ways that stories can be shared through the archives and various ways in how archives can be collected and shared. The volunteers continue to work at Tameside Local Studies and Archives and are also undertaking their own research.

We are also indebted to Heather Butterworth who edited the films.