Inspiration comes from all kinds of places; as a writer I’m intrigued to discover those that other writers inhabit. Spaces, views and environments that spark creativity.
And so, on a dreary January Sunday, I paid a visit to the Manchester home of one of the most important and best loved Victorian writers: Elizabeth Gaskell.
Elizabeth was a humanitarian driven by social justice, she was the mother of four girls, (her only son died at the age of nine months), wife to William and a great friend to the creative community. Novelist Charlotte Bronte, conductor Charles Halle and American abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe were among esteemed guests who came to stay at Plymouth Grove.
84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester
When Elizabeth and William moved into their dream home, Manchester was a city of cotton mills, factories and downtrodden workers.
The Gaskell Society notes Frederick Engels observation of Manchester’s human crisis at the expense of booming business; he wrote ‘The workers’ dwellings of Manchester are dirty, miserable and wholly lacking in comforts. In such houses only inhuman, degraded and unhealthy creatures would feel at home.’
The Conditions of the Working Class in England 1844
The Gaskells were fortunate to afford vastly different living standards. Their handsome Victorian villa was in a relatively rural area of the rapidly expanding city. Elizabeth had servants, tended a garden, kept a cow, a pig and chicken and entertained eminent guests. Today the city is on the doorstep.
From the Gaskell’s front door, contemporary city centre homes
Elizabeth’s villa is a delicious retreat. Beautifully restored, there is much attention to period detail, from the plasterwork, to the wallpaper and the fabulous chintz fabrics.
In the hallway, calling cards and mail. Post was delivered three times daily; responding to fan mail consumed much of Elizabeth’s time.
Off the main hall way, William’s study is woody, booky and cosy, while the Victorian morning room opposite is light and airy; here Elizabeth’s four girls -Marianne, Margaret Emily (Meta), Florence and Julia gathered to read and write.
The cheery Victorian morning room wallpaper
The sitting room is chintz comfort; the khaki green wallpaper an exact copy of that chosen by Elizabeth, likewise fine floral chintz used on the seats and for the curtains.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s sitting room where the likes of Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens took tea. Note the warm wool paisley shawl on the chaise.
Richly decorated windows and matching seat covers
I was taken by the story of shy Charlotte Bronte diving behind the curtains to hide while Elizabeth stepped into the hallway to welcome an unexpected guest, Mrs Potter, to join them for tea. Charlotte’s painful shyness made such surprises impossible for her. She remained frozen behind the curtain, unbeknown to Elizabeth and Mrs Potter who assumed she had left the room.
Beautiful fabrics at the huge windows, this chintz was Elizabeth’s pride and joy
Beautiful chintz curtain linings too
Writer, mother, wife…you can see where she was coming from! Putting it all in context: the below stairs area of Elizabeth Gaskell’s house
When she did find time to write, the bay window in the dining room was a favourite place.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing room
The ground floor bay window, where Elizabeth preferred to write her novels
Still hugely popular: a delivery of Elizabeth’s novel ‘North and South’ in the ground floor tea room and shop, formerly the kitchen of the family home.
The small garden of the house brought Elizabeth much pleasure, the pink carnations she grew in the garden are seen scrambling through the chintz pattern of the sitting room upholstery. The famous author enjoyed the privacy of her garden, she wrote:
Relaxation Victorian style!
Elizabeth’s home is open on selected days throughout the year, for times and prices see www.elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk