Saturday, 24 January 2015

Gaskell's House: Manchester's Hidden Gem

Helen ventured out in the snow to uncover the secrets of 84 Plymouth Grove...

84 Plymouth Grove sounds very unassuming. Not quite as grand a title as Chatsworth, Nostell Priory, or any of the other heritage houses we've written about here on What They Wore Yesterday. But there is something special, something different about 84 Plymouth Grove. It was not graced by dukes and duchesses or by royalty, but by some of the most talented and famous writers and thinkers of the Victorian era.
  Finding hidden gems is always great- whether its picking up a pair of vintage trousers for 50p at a car boot sale, or stumbling onto a heritage site as amazing as 84 Plymouth Grove. What makes it even better is when it's slap bang on your doorstep.
  So, welcome to 84 Plymouth Grove, seated at the heart of Manchester and once home to the sensational Elizabeth Gaskell!

She wrote the truth about the poor, the north/south divide, and the struggles of women, and what's more, she did it at a time when her husband was a junior minister, and had half of his congregation raving about the inappropriate writings of his wife. She had her own bank account and wasn't afraid to travel alone. She educated her daughters and encouraged them to live their own lives. She opened up this house, which she was so proud of, to artists and writers- Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte were amongst the visitors. 
  Her novels were visionary and she was a woman ahead of her time. (She also created the role of John Thornton in North & South, and anybody who has seen Richard Armitage take on the role knows how swoon-worthy he is. Cheers Elizabeth!) So stepping into her house was an incredible experience- mainly because the whole house is reconstructed so that you can sit, stand, walk, look, wherever she would.

The fires look so real you almost want to reach out and warm your hands, and me and my friends Clare and Liz had to double check whether the cakes on display were edible...

It really is a remarkable place. There are no ropes, no rooms off limits- you can breathe in how they lived through the rooms on display, and see what they wore through the amazing wedding veil exhibition in the living room. 

My favourite room was William Gaskell's study, where I sat to write my own sermon- mainly preaching the wonders of his wife- at his writing desk. The maps on the wall gave an impression of what Manchester was like at the time, and it really is amazing how different the city where I wander every day was. Elizabeth and I saw very different sights when we looked out of the same window. 

Of course, when do either of the What They Wore Yesterday ladies visit a heritage house without heading straight to the tea room? Look how delightful and delicate the china is! Tasty cakes and all sampled in the heart of every house- the kitchen. 

Please, please, fellow northerners- go and support this little house, that is bursting at the seams with the stories of a woman who told some of the most important stories of her time. The volunteers are kind, helpful, and friendly, and from the first step over the front door, you feel at home with Elizabeth herself. 

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