The home of renowned author Elizabeth Gaskell reopened to the public on 5 October 2014. The Victorian villa at number 84, Plymouth Grove was built around 1838. Mrs Gaskell lived there with her family until her death in 1865. Her husband and daughters continued in residence for many years afterwards.
Mrs Gaskell wrote short stories and novels including Mary Barton (1848), Cranford (1851–53) and North and South (1854–55). Her novels give us great insight into living conditions in Manchester in the mid 19th century. She documented people of various classes, including the very poor.
Her husband, William Gaskell, was a Unitarian minister and they married in 1832. The Gaskells then moved to Manchester, where William became the minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel. She died of a heart attack in 1865. She was 55 years old. The house was sold in 1913. It was acquired by the University of Mancheste rin 1969 and in 2004 by the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust, who raised funds to restore it.
I’ve driven past the house many times and have witnessed the gradual renovation of the exterior. Previously it was the home of the International Society, which is now located on Oxford Road.
If you enter through the front door, it’s like walking into the Victorian Era. The hall and several of the rooms have been restored as closely as possible to how they looked when Mrs Gaskell and her husband lived there. The furniture and fitting have been chosen to reflect the styles of the mid-Victorian era. It’s very atmospheric and feels like a family home. You can feel the presence of its former occupants.
The trees and lawns of Swinton Grove Park can be seen through the windows, and you could almost imagine you are in the middle of the country, though it is only a mile to the south of Manchester city centre.
I believe that when you preserve and enhance a building that has been left to us, rather than knocking it down, you are creating something precious for the future. Many new buildings go out of date within a few years. An old building never goes out of date.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s house is also a venue for events, and there are conference rooms available for hire upstairs. Audio-visual equipment and wifi are available, and it’s fully accessible. It’s a building that combines the best of old and new.
Find out more at www.elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk
Very close to Elizabeth Gaskell House is the Plymouth Grove Hotel with its distinctive clock tower. Like the Elizabeth Gaskell’s House it is Grade II* listed. The MEN reported in February last year that there were plans to renovate the building and re-use it as a Chinese restaurant but in 2015 it is still awaiting renovation.