This year I am working with Buckt, a monthly subscription box which instead sending stuff it gives experiences. On the weekend, Jit and I headed down to Plymouth Grove to visit Elizabeth Gaskell’s House.
Jit and I have lived in Manchester for over 17 years and have seen Elizabeth Gaskell’s House plenty of times during those years. However, we were blissfully unaware of the amazing stories and historic value. Especially when it pink and purple. Yes, really. Having Elizabeth Gaskell’s House as one of our activities in the Buckt box was the perfect “kick up the bum” to get there for a visit.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
During the many years we have lived in the city, we have passed by Elizabeth Gaskell’s House on many an occasion – usually on the way to Manchester Royal Infirmary following one of my many injuries. It has been on the list of local places we wanted to explore, but when push came to shove, it would slip down or we would forget about it. I remember many years ago seeing the strangely run down pink building on Plymouth Grove and wondering about its past. This is something I do a lot with run down buildings. Finding out that it was the home of Elizabeth Gaskell made it all the more exciting.
The lady of the house
On the off-chance that you don’t really know about Elizabeth Gaskell, here’s a quick intro. Elizabeth, originally from Chelsea, settled in Manchester with her Unitarian Minister husband William Gaskell. She is famous for her novels which were influenced by the industrial era, taking inspiration from the people around her. She began writing her first novel as a means of escaping the grief of the loss of her only son. Her first book, Mary Barton was published in 1884 and was followed by five more best sellers. Of course you can find out much more by visiting the house for yourself – I’d recommend it!
84 Plymouth Grove
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is slightly off the beaten track, so you would be excused for not spotting it. However, it is worth a detour from Oxford Road to learn more about the area and the influence of the Gaskell family in the region. Their friends and network included Charles Dickens who regularly visited and the Potter family – Beatrix Potter.
Elizabeth found the house to be rather large for them and their family seeing that so many lived in poverty that she strove to make it a place for people to congregate and to share ideas and time together. The rooms are displayed in ways which share this idea with tea set out and cakes at the ready.
The way the house is now is a long way from when the Society bought the property in 2004. Before they were able to get hold of the building it was property of Manchester University who converted it as accommodation for international students. This included it being painted pink and there being a kind of retro disco function room in the basement, complete with disco ball!
Discovering the soul of the home
I will hold my hands high to admit that I don’t know as much as I thought I did about the Gaskell family, despite working for the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and taking a great interest in our local history. The displays in Elizabeth Gaskell’s House were a brilliant starting point. Not only were we introduced to the family (in story form) we could play with an interactive map. This was a great addition to the exhibits as I started to link together the pieces from here and further afield in Knutsford with links to Tatton Park.
It really is amazing how interconnected the stately homes and people of prominence are in the area. Elizabeth used to travel around with her Uncle in Knutsford who was a local doctor, treating the wealthy at Tatton Park and Dunham Massey. He was also doctor to Quarry Bank Mill where he would treat the children who worked there – it was an interesting project of the time.
An afternoon of culture
My favourite thing about places like Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is the volunteer and the incredible stories that they can share about the life and times of the home and the people who lived there. I got chatting to another Elizabeth, one of the Trustees, who was a wealth of knowledge about the family and the items within the home. I could have listened to her for hours, piecing together the vast links between famous names.
On our way out, after promising to head back to have a tea in the basement and to explore further, I was directed to the door bell. An unlikely highlight of our visit.
It turns out that this is the working doorbell which would have been used when Charles Dickens would visit. Of course, I pulled the bell and enjoyed the feeling of being the next big thing to have used the bell – in my mind!
Discovering something new
If you read my blog regularly, you will know that I am regularly sharing that we all need to learn more about where we live, to support local businesses and to experience new things. Having discovered Buckt, I think it makes this kind of thing a lot simpler. They do the leg work to discover exciting places to visit, something to learn or try delivered straight to your door. Yes, I probably would have made it to Elizabeth Gaskell’s House sooner or later, but Buckt made sure it was sooner. And I’m pleased because I have another great place to visit in Manchester.
Now I have axe throwing, meditation, trampoline park and drumming lessons to look forward to. I think hitting my bucket list is going to be made far easier this year, that’s for sure!
Have you visited Elizabeth Gaskell’s House? Have you got a bucket list for the year?
Let me know in the comments below.
Disclosure: I received the Buckt subscription box as a gift in return for doing and sharing about the activities. All comments, photos and opinions are honest and my own – unless otherwise stated.