Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

Manchester, England

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House was once visited by some of the most important authors in British literary history.

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- Donald Judge

Exploring Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is a historic house and museum celebrating the life and literature of Elizabeth Gaskell—-one of the UK’s most important Victorian writers. Owned and operated by the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust, a visit to the Georgian villa is an exploration of period rooms, a Victorian-style garden, and changing exhibitions. But this wasn’t always the case. Until recently, Elizabeth Gaskell’s House was in a terrible state of neglect but a restoration effort managed to restore the house to its original quality.

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- Donald Judge

Who was Elizabeth Gaskell?

Located at 84 Plymouth Grove in Manchester, this Georgian villa was the family home of Elizabeth Gaskell from 1850 until her passing in 1865. Renowned as "one of the greatest female novelists of all time," Gaskell's literary legacy continues to captivate readers worldwide with her works such as "Cranford," "North and South," and her biography of Charlotte Brontë. Today, in the William’s study, visitors can browse through the books that inspired Gaskell's imagination and sit in the same chair where she wrote her famous novels and short stories.

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- Donald Judge

The History of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

Regency Style Architecture

Constructed between 1835-1841, Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is an example of Regency-style architecture complete with stucco features and front porch adorned with lotus leaf-shaped columns. Designed by architect Richard Lane, the villa was part of a suburban development catering to the growing middle-classes in the area, on the outskirts of the city.

In recognition of its architectural significance, Elizabeth Gaskell’s House was granted Grade II* listed status in February 1952.

The Gaskell Family Residence

In June 1850, Elizabeth Gaskell, along with her husband William and their children, moved into the house, then numbered 42 Plymouth Grove. The family had previously lived in Manchester due to William’s job as assistant Minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel.

At first Elizabeth was concerned about residing in such an expensive house while others lived in poverty, but despite her reservations, the Gaskells made 84 Plymouth Grove their home for the next 63 years.

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- Donald Judge

The Gardens at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

In the gardens behind the house the Gaskell family raised livestock including a pig, a cow, and poultry. They also grew flowers, and vegetables in the greenhouse, which was heated from the kitchen basement.

"Do you know I believe the garden will be a great delight in our new house... it will be gay and bright with common flowers."

Elizabeth Gaskell writing in 1850.

But the garden offered Elizabeth more than a means to become self-sustainable, it was a space where she could be free from the restrictions of society. This is shown by her remark about being able to venture outdoors "without a bonnet”.

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- Donald Judge

Other Authors at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

As a prominent figure in literary circles, Gaskell welcomed other wordsmiths such as Charles Dickens and his wife, and Charlotte Brontë into her home. Brontë visited the house on three occasions and described it as "a large, cheerful, airy house, quite out of Manchester smoke." Barbara Brill, biographer of William Gaskell, likened the house to a beehive, buzzing with activity.

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- maljoe

Changing Ownership and Proposed Museum

Tragically, Gaskell's plans for retirement with her husband were cut short by her sudden demise in 1865. Her husband William, outlived her by nearly two decades, passing away in 1884. Following William's death, Gaskell’s two unmarried daughters, Meta and Julia, remained at Plymouth Grove.

In 1913, Meta Gaskell, the last family member, passed away, marking the end of the Gaskell family's occupancy of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House. Despite suggestions to turn the house into a public museum dedicated to Gaskell and her literature, the idea was rejected by the local authority. The University of Manchester later acquired the building in 1969, converting it for use by the International Society before relinquishing it in 2000.

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- Donald Judge

Renovating Elizabeth Gaskell's House

The restoration journey of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House began with the acquisition of the building by the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust in 2004. Recognising the dire state of disrepair, efforts were put in motion to secure the building's future. Structural issues were addressed, and restoration work commenced in September 2009.

Challenges and of the Restoration

Challenges to the restoration process included structural cracks, foundation issues, and the threat of metal theft. However, with determination, milestones were achieved. A £750,000 restoration of the exterior and a new roof was installed in 2010. Despite setbacks, such as the theft of lead from the roof in 2011, the restoration continued.

Interior Restoration

In June 2012, a grant of £1.85 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund allowed for a restoration of the house's interior. Curators consulted with heritage experts and poured through Elizabeth’s letters, concerning the Gaskells' residence, to source period furniture that would recreate an authentic Victorian home.

The ground floor, featuring chintz curtains, woven carpets, original paint colours and fireplaces, was fully restored to its former appearance, while the upstairs was transformed into a museum space. Personal items loaned from descendants of the Gaskell family, such as Elizabeth’s wedding veil and Paisley shawls, are also displayed.

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- Donald Judge

Exploring Elzabeth Gaskell’s House Today

“We've got a house...it certainly is a beauty...I must try and make the house give as much pleasure to others as I can.”

Elizabeth Gaskell, in a letter to her friend Eliza Fox in 1850.

In line with Elizabeth’s wish that her home should bring joy to others, the house was opened to the public as a museum on 5th October 2014. Operating every Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, with private tours and school visits possible on other days, the house invites exploration.

Period Rooms at the Gaskell Residence

  • The Morning Room: Start your tour of the house with a short introductory film about Elizabeth Gaskell and Victorian Manchester.
  • The William Study: Feast your eyes on the volumes lining the shelves that would have resonated with Elizabeth and look at the catalogue of books kept by Meta Gaskell before they went to auction.
  • The Drawing Room: Filled with period furniture based on photographs and other evidence from 1897.
  • The Dining Room: Apparently the round table in the bay window was Elizabeth’s favourite writing spot.
  • Elizabeth’s Bedroom: Complete your journey with a visit to Elizabeth’s Bedroom, where a volunteer-led restoration project, funded by donations and sponsorships, was recently completed in April 2021.
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- Donald Judge

Tea and Books

Indulge in an oh-so-British experience by enjoying tea and cake served on mismatched vintage china, after browsing the collection of Gaskell novels and biographies available for purchase in the shop. There is also a second-hand book sale every second Sunday of the month.

Gardens at the Gaskell Residence

  • Front Garden: A collection of hollies, shrubs, herbaceous plants, and seasonal bedding plants.
  • Fernery: An area of native ferns and shade-loving plants—a perfect bug environment.
  • Driveway: Lined with espaliered apple and pear trees, lavender, crocus, and annuals.
  • Pergola: Covered in roses and clematis, the pergola is a beautiful feature, especially in May and June.
  • Vegetable and Fruit Plot: Planted with fruit and veggies that would have been grown by Elizabeth herself.
  • Rear Wall: Covered with climbers and spring bulbs.
  • Long Border: Featuring small trees, flowering shrubs, and perennials.
  • Pots Collection: Look out for the ever-changing display of pots on the steps at the back of the house.
  • Garden Trail: In Summer 2022 a new garden trail designed especially for younger visitors, was opened. By scanning QR codes along the trail, children can learn fun facts, play games, and discover ways to protect wildlife and the environment at home.

Don’t forget to visit the plant sale, where you can purchase a variety of plants and cuttings, taking a piece of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House home with you.

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- Donald Judge

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our CityDays Manchester Treasure Hunts - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of Manchester.

Information

What you need to know

Name
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
Address
84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester M13 9LW, United Kingdom
Location
53.463585, -2.221126
Tips before you visit
Map

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