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 Brontë
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.