Another very conveniently sited family attraction, Elizabeth Gaskell‘s House in Manchester is the former home of Elizabeth and her family. I’m very familiar with her most famous novels, which include Mary Barton, Cranford, North and South, and Wives and Daughters. In my (long-distant?) youth, I studied Victorian Literature as part of my degree and obsessed over Bronte, Eliot and Gaskell.
My eldest daughter, who will begin Year 2 in September, has recently been studying the Victorian at school, with a school trip to the nearby Dunham Massey House. I thought this would be a good place for them to visit during the school summer holidays – educational and fun activities – what’s not to like?
We arrived to find a beautiful period home near Central Manchester at 84 Plymouth Grove. It’s an impressive, beautifully restored Grade II listed neoclassical villa with spectacular period rooms, villa garden and a lovely tea rooms. It was the residence of William and Elizabeth Gaskell from 1850 until their deaths in 1884 and 1865 respectively, and one or more of their daughters continued to live there until 1913.
What’s more, we were most impressed with the volunteers, stationed in every room and manning the tea rooms. They seemed so dedicated and knowledgable – we could ask them anything!
With 2 hungry youngsters, we actually began our tour of the house in the tea room, situated in the old kitchens and adjacent to the servants quarters. My two girls (aged 6 and 4) were really impressed that they could sit at their own tea-table and enjoy a piece of home-made cake.
However, they were even more impressed to try out the Victorian costumes in the servants quarters. This is my best photo of the summer so far – my youngest as a Victorian lady, perchance about to nip out for her afternoon stroll around the gardens following her tea, with her lady’s maid (not sure how good a lady’s maid my 6-year-old would make, however!).
We didn’t actually make it upstairs for quite sometime due to costume-induced hilarity. However we eventually ascended and made it, back at the impressive entrance to the house. the girls each had a turn at ringing the doorbell – a traditional wired system whereby a lever at the front of the house is pushed to ring the internal bell.
The girls were each given a clipboard with a pictorial list of items that they needed to find around the house. The house has been beautifully restored over the years, having lain dormant for some time until the University of Manchester procured it in 1969. Most of the items there are of the period, with many original Gaskell items held here also (these are kept behind perspex – for example letters, pictures, other personal items).
We made or way through William Gaskell‘s study, the morning room, drawing-room and dining room. There are activities for children in each of the rooms, for example the magnifying glass and range of letters, much-loved by my two girls who were fascinated by the tiny, cursive writing.
We saw copies of letters from Charles Dickens which I found interesting. Mrs Gaskell wrote for a periodical for Charles Dickens and some of her stories later formed the basis of Cranford.
We also found out much more from the volunteers about the life and work of the Gaskell’s and the lives of their daughters and servants.
I was particularly drawn to the Gaskell quotes stationed around the house – so appropriate still to modern times!
We will certainly visit the Gaskell house again. The house and it’s volunteers host a year-round programme of special events and the loved book shop sells a range of new and second-hand books. I bought Sylvia’s Lovers as I’ve never read this novel of Mrs Gaskell’s. It will provide me with my holiday reading!
Disclaimer: We were invited to visit Elizabeth Gaskell’s House free of charge. Admission is £5 per adults – children under 16 go free. All opinions are our own.