I had a wonderful and inspirational experience visiting the home of Elizabeth Gaskell in Manchester, UK, at 84 Plymouth Grove. Her most memorable works were Cranford (1851-53), North & South (1854-55), and Wives & Daughters (1865). She also authored many other works over the years such as short stories and novellas.
After arriving at the home, I was greeted by informative volunteers placed in each of the rooms ready to give visitors the background on the house and the fascinating lives of its former occupants. The home itself is actually Georgian in design, but the interior, of course, in the mid-1800’s was Victorian. Elizabeth and her husband William moved into the home in 1850 (it was built in 1838). The home has welcomed many to its doors, including Charlotte Bronte and Beatrice Potter, The narrator told us that the doorbell knob had been pulled by others, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Ruskin, and Charles Dickens who had stayed at the house. A few of us ran out the front door and pulled the same doorknob to hear the ring and touch the apparatus!
Apparently, the home fell into disrepair and remained empty. It was acquired by Manchester University in 1969, and then by the Manchester Historic Building Trust in 2004. Money was raised to restore the building, and it was reopened in 2011. Today, there were quite a few visitors.
Elizabeth married William Gaskell in 1832, who was a Unitarian preacher. His study, located to the right of the front entrance, is filled with books that reminded me of Mr. Hale, the preacher, in North & South. I found it surprising to learn that Elizabeth’s husband was very much like the character of Mr. Hale because he brought poor students into his home to teach them one-on-one. Elizabeth’s husband had also been an inspiration and guide in her developing stories.
The house itself is a beautiful restoration of the residence. Many of the artifacts are original, and you are allowed to touch, sit, and take pictures to your heart’s desire. Elizabeth sat in her dining room to write, though, she did use other places in the house. However, her writings indicate that she spent the majority of her time at a round table in the dining room near the window. The dining room itself is quite large, which a long dining table in front of the fireplace. At the table, were photocopies of original letters from Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte to Elizabeth, but their handwriting was difficult to read. Thankfully, there were readable transcripts of the letters.
In addition to these wonderful historic correspondence pieces (see below), Elizabeth’s writing for her last work, Wives & Daughters, is there for you to pick up and read from her small writing desk. It is a photocopy of her original work. She died at the home before finishing this story. It was serialized and her notes indicated that she intended another portion. Apparently, the movie version added an ending they felt was consistent with plans for Roger expressing his feelings.
Elizabeth and Charlotte Bronte were close friends. One of Charlotte’s letters to Elizabeth is below regarding what she thought of Elizabeth’s story, Cranford. A copy of the letter is laing on the dining room table.
Below is a slideshow of the interior of the home.
Yesterday, I also went to the British Library in London and saw Jane Austen’s writing desk and a page from her manuscript from Persuasion. What surprised me the most was the size of the paper and the small handwriting! After speaking about it with a tour guide a Gaskell’s home, he stated that paper was an expensive commodity during Jane Austen’s day. I estimate the size of the paper about 5″ x 8″ if not smaller. It was fantastic to see Jane’s penmanship, though tiny, it was readable as the name of Captain Wentworth jumped off the page, making me smile.
Needless to say, these two visits were wonderful. Seeing the home and manuscripts was inspirational, to say the least. I hope you enjoy this post about some of your favorite authors.
One more picture – Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Bronte – two talented authors who have made their mark in history.
Thank you for letting me share this experience!
Vicki Hopkins, Author