Elizabeth Gaskell's House


84 Plymouth Grove, now known as Elizabeth Gaskell's House, is a former house museum in Manchester, England.

The property was designed in the Greek Revival style, dates back to the early 19th century, and was the residence of William and Elizabeth Gaskell from 1850 until their death in 1884 and 1865, respectively.

The Grade II neoclassical house received listed building status in 1952, in part due to its association with the family.

Origins & History

84 Plymouth Grove was probably designed by architect Richard Lane (1795-1880), around 1838, and was built speculatively as part of a larger development catering to the burgeoning middle classes in the area, then on the outskirts of the city.

The property consisted of drawing and dining rooms, seven bedrooms and a garage wing, and was built in response to Manchester's newly emerging middle-class citizens.

It contains twenty rooms on two floors above a hidden basement with a front porch containing four columns carved in the shape of a lotus leaf, reminiscent of the Tower of the Winds in Athens. Although the front of the house had a pink cape for years, earning it the nickname 'The Pink House', during Elizabeth Gaskell's time, the walls were described as 'stone-colored'.

The Gaskells' Residence

Elizabeth (1810-1865) and William (1805-1884), along with their children, Marianne (1834-1920), Margaret Emily Gaskell (1837-1913), Florence (1845-1881), and Julia (1846-1908), moved into the home in June 1850, after the publication of Elizabeth's first novel, Mary Barton. However, they had lived in Manchester for some time before, as William Gaskell's job as assistant minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel required the family to move from Knutsford in Cheshire.

The family had stayed at two different locations in Manchester, both of which have now been demolished.

The spacious Plymouth Grove accommodation worried Gaskell, who, despite calling the house "a beauty", was concerned about living in such an expensive house with a rent of 150 pounds a year, while others lived in poverty. Despite Elizabeth's concerns, the Gaskells were not frugal, and the twenty-room house cost half of William's salary for rent.

Elizabeth, feeling guilty, justified it by saying: "It's William who must decide on all these things."

Until the birth of their children they only needed a servant, Betsy, however, in Plymouth Grove much more domestic staff were employed, including a cook, several servants, a handyman for outdoor work, as well as a laundress and a seamstress.

Elizabeth trained her staff and took care of their well-being while they worked around the house.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855), who visited the house three times between 1851 and 1854, described it as "a large, cheerful and airy house, away from Manchester smoke", referring to the hundreds of textile and cotton factories located in the center of the city, particularly in the Ancoats area.

On one occasion, the meek Brontë even hid behind the curtains in Gaskells's drawing room because she was too shy to meet the other guests.

Barbara Brill, biographer of William Gaskell (1805-1884), stated that "Plymouth Grove could be compared to the activities of a beehive" because the Gaskells entertained many guests while they lived in the house. In addition to Brontë, visitors to the home during Elizabeth Gaskell's lifetime included Charles Dickens, who, on one occasion in 1852, made an impromptu visit to the home, along with his wife at 10 a.m., much to Elizabeth's dismay, who told him it was "too early".

John Ruskin (1819-1900), English art critic, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), American author and abolitionist, Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908), author, and Charles Hallé (1819-1895), German pianist also visited Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) in Plymouth Grove. Hallé visited the house frequently and taught Margaret Emily Gaskell (1837-1913) to play the piano.

Gaskell lived in Plymouth Grove with his family until his death 15 years later, in 1865, and all his subsequent books were written there, including some of his most famous works, such as Cranford and North and South.

The Gaskell family continued to occupy the house after the deaths of Elizabeth (1810-1865) and William (1805-1884). The death of Elizabeth Gaskell's daughter, Margaret Emily Gaskell (1837-1913), in 1913, ended the Gaskell residence there.

Many suggested that the house become a public museum dedicated to Gaskell and his literary works, with the idea supported by The Manchester Guardian.

The New York Times stated that the conversion to a museum could be achieved with a "small expense", since part of the land that belongs to the house could be sold for it's development.

Despite the suggestion, the idea was rejected by the local authority, with The Manchester Guardian quoting them as saying: "The house belonged to one of the ugliest periods in architecture and had no value beyond its association with the Gaskell family."

Hopes of turning 84 Plymouth Grove into a museum were soon extinguished, and the house stayed there. Subsequently, the University of Manchester bought the house in 1969, converting it for use by the International Society, but then ceded the building in 2000.


The house was listed as Grade II on England's National Heritage List in February 1952, giving it protection against demolition. However, 84 Plymouth Grove slowly descended into a state of disrepair due to neglect.

The building was purchased in 2004 by the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust, with the aim of restoring the building and allowing it to open to the public.

In 2006, the house was in a very poor state of repair with serious structural problems and was listed on the Register of English Heritage Buildings at Risk.

An article in The Independent noted the state of disrepair: "Structural cracks go through the walls, it's necessary to shore up the foundation, replace the entire roof and eradicate the dry rot, while the entire building needs to be restored and improved."

Restoration work started in September 2009, it received a £ 750,000 restoration of its exterior and a new roof was installed on the house in 2010.

Lead was used at the insistence of English Heritage. However, in May 2011, metal thieves stole most of the lead from the new roof, causing £ 250,000 worth of damage in the process and allowing rainwater to enter the house.

The remaining lead was removed from the roof to prevent further theft and a new roof was built in it's place.

Work on the first phase of restoration, which repaired the roof, drains and structural damage, was completed in February 2013, with most of the external work completed and the building airtight. At that time, the pink paint that covered the house was removed and replaced by an off-white color.

In June 2012 it was announced that a grant of £ 1.85 million had been obtained from the Heritage Lottery Fund, allowing the restoration of the interior of the house to take place.

The funding covered the restoration of the guest rooms, and reception rooms, and created a learning area for visitors. The lottery grant was also used to help restore the home garden, where the Gaskells kept pigs, birds, and a cow.

The ground floor of the house has been completely restored in the style of an authentic Victorian house.

The house's curators investigated what 84 Plymouth Grove would look like during Gaskell's residency and borrowed various period furniture from Manchester art galleries and the John Rylands Library to recreate the Gaskells' study and other rooms. Additionally, heritage experts at the Whitworth Art Gallery were consulted to help find the appropriate wallpaper and paint colors that would have been used in the home at the time.

Armitage Construction, a heritage specialty company founded in 1874, restored the home's decorative plasterwork and woodwork using traditional lime plastering and woodworking techniques of the time.

In February 2014, the home's renovators were seeking the donation of a mid-19th century Broadwood baby grand piano, the model that Charles Hallé (1819-1895) used to teach Elizabeth Gaskell's daughters in the home, for the living room of 84 Plymouth Grove.

The upper floor of the house has a series of rooms and performance spaces dedicated to educational work, literary work and community events, and finally Elizabeth Gaskell's House reopened to the public on October 5, 2014.

Following the completion of the £ 2.5 million restoration, the property's curators hope that literary tourism will benefit the house and make it a destination similar to William Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon or the Brontë Museum Parsonage in Haworth.

Elizabeth Cleghorn GaskellEnglish novelist  

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (Chelsea, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Greater London, England; September 29, 1810 - Alton, East Hampshire District, Hampshire, England; November 12, 1865) was an English novelist, biographer and short story writer, and his novels provide a detailed portrait of the life of many strata of Victorian society, including the very poor.


Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson was the daughter of Elizabeth Holland (1771-1811), originally from Cheshire, England, and William Stevenson (1772-1829), a nonconformist Scottish preacher, tutor, and civil servant. His parents were married on December 1, 1797 at St Lawrence's Parish Church, Over Peover in Cheshire, and together they had 8 children.

Elizabeth Stevenson and John Stevenson (1800-1827) were the only two children to survive this marriage and then their brother John died around 1827 during a trip to India.

She married William Gaskel (1805-1884) on August 30, 1832 in Knutsford, Cheshire, England, and together they had 5 children: Marianne Gaskell (1834-1920), Margaret Emily Gaskell (1837-1913), Florence Elizabeth Gaskell (1842-1881), William Thomas Gaskell (1844-1845) and Julia Bradford Gaskell (1846-1908).

The Reverend William Gaskell was an English Unitarian minister, charity worker, and pioneer in the education of the working class. For more than fifty years he helped train men with no prior academic training for Unitary ministry. In addition to being a student of the English language and dialects and a celebrated literary lecturer, he assisted his wife, Elizabeth Gaskell, in the research and editorial preparation of her novels.

It should also be noted that Elizabeth's aunt, Hannah Holland (1767-1837), was married on October 7, 1789 in the parish chapel of Over Peover in Cheshire to Samuel Lumb (1761-1805), grandson of John Lumb of Wakefield ( 1690 -1768), who was the brother-in-law of Richard Foster of Flanshaw Lane (1686-1729).


Elizabeth was born on September 29, 1810, and her mother died thirteen months later. His father William Stevenson was a Unitarian, but had stopped preaching to become Keeper of the Treasury Records. Unable to raise her himself, Stevenson sent Elizabeth to live with her aunt Hannah Lumb (1767-1837), who lived in Knutsford, Cheshire.

Her aunt was legally separated from her husband, who had been declared insane. Hannah's own daughter, Marianne Lumb (1790-1812), was disabled and died in 1812, at the age of twenty-one.

Most of her childhood was spent in Knutsford, where she lived with her aunt, Hannah Lumb. This town would later immortalize it as Cranford, a very popular novel.

Elizabeth's brother, John Stevenson, had joined the merchant marine in 1820 but disappeared the following year on a trip to India. The news devastated his father and he fell into a deep depression. Elizabeth now returns to her father's home in London, where she cared for him until her death on March 22, 1829. He also lived for some time in Newcastle upon Tyne with the Reverend William Turner and in Edinburgh.

Her stepmother was the sister of the Scottish miniature artist William John Thomson (1771-1845), who painted a famous portrait of Elizabeth in 1832. He spent the next two years in the home of the Reverend William Turner (1761-1859), a relative and Unitarian minister of Hanover Chapel, Newcastle upon Tyne. Turner was a tireless activist for social causes: the emancipation of Catholics and Jews, the abolition of the slave trade, and support for charity and Sunday schools. It was to have a lasting influence on his political views.

On a visit to Turner's daughter, who lived in Manchester, Elizabeth met William Gaskell, a minister at her local Unitarian chapel. They quickly developed a close friendship and were married on August 30, 1832. The honeymoon was spent in North Wales, with Elizabeth's uncle, Samuel Holland, who lived near Porthmadog and settled in Manchester, where the industrial neighborhood would provide inspiration for his novels.

The circles in which the Gaskells moved revolved around great literati, religious dissidents, and social reformers, including William Howitt (1792-1879) and Mary Howitt (1799-1888).

In July 1833 Gaskell's first daughter was born dead. Their first surviving daughter, Marianne, was born on September 12, 1834 and her daughter's early years are recorded in Gaskell's diary: "She will speak before she walks, I think. She can clearly say daddy, dark, stir, pot, lamp, book, tea, sweep." Another daughter, Margaret Emily, was born on February 5, 1837.

Gaskell's poem, Sketches between the Poor, appeared in The Blackwood Magazine in 1837. Her friends encouraged her to write more, but she felt she needed to focus on caring for her children.

Later he wrote: "When I had young children, I don't think I could have written stories because I should have gotten too absorbed in my fictional people to attend to my real people, everyone who tries to write stories must be absorbed in them (fictional as they are) if they are to interest your readers."

Gaskell's next child was stillborn. She gave birth to Florence Elizabeth on October 7, 1842. The family now moved to a larger house in Manchester and on October 23, 1844, William, the Gaskells' son, was born, but ten months later he died of scarlet fever. Following this, Elizabeth sank into a deep depression that didn't really end until her last daughter, Julia Bradford, was born in 1846. During this period, the Gaskells became friends with the social reformers, Samuel Bamford (1788-1872) and James Martineau (1805-1900).

In February 1850, Charles Dickens (1812-1870) decided to join forces with his publisher, Bradbury & Evans, and his friend, John Forster (1812-1876), to publish the Household Words magazine. Dickens became an editor and William Wills (1834-1861), a journalist with whom he worked at the Daily News, became his assistant. Dickens planned to serialize his new novels in the magazine and also wanted to promote the work of like-minded writers.

The first person he contacted was Elizabeth Gaskell.

Dickens was very impressed with her first novel, Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life (1848) and offered to bring her future work. She sent Lizzie Leigh a story about a Manchester prostitute, which appeared in the first issue on March 30, 1850. Dickens also published her short stories The Well of Pen Morfa and The Heart of John Middleton.

In August 1850, Gaskell met the novelist and poet Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) at the summer home of James Kay-Shuttleworth (1804-1877). The two women became friends and were very interested in their children. He later recalled that Gaskell was "a woman whose conversation and company I should not soon tire of. I find her kind, intelligent, lively, and unaffected."

Gaskell also met Florence Nightingale (1820-1910). She admired her sense of duty, but found her manner difficult: "She has no friends and she does not want them. She is perfectly alone, halfway between God and his creatures."

Elizabeth Gaskell continued to publish stories in Household Words and also produced a series of stories that were published between December 13, 1851 and May 21, 1853, which eventually became Cranford's novel.

During this period, Gaskell visited Charles Dickens at his home: "We were taken to Mr. Dickens's study, where he writes all his books. There are books everywhere, up to the ceiling and to the floor, after dinner a lot of people came in. At the time we were in the living room, which is not as pretty or homey as the study. We listened to beautiful music and I kept trying to learn people's faces by heart, so I could remember them; but it was quite confusing that there were so many. There were some nice little Dickens children in the room who were very polite and well trained."


Elizabeth Gaskell suddenly collapsed with a massive heart attack at her new home at Holybourne, near Alton in Hampshire, on November 12, 1865. She died shortly thereafter and was buried on November 17 at the Brook Street Chapel Cemetery in Knutsford, Cheshire, England. 

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