Dining Room

‘I am sitting at the round writing table in the dining-room – Marianne is mending me a pen, over the fire place, in order that the bits may drop into the fender.’

– Elizabeth Gaskell, 1857

It must have been quite a squeeze to fit everything – and everyone – in when they entertained, even though the Gaskells’ dining table was large enough to seat 20 guests.

Today, the dining table has been laid for a family lunch with the two main courses of soup and roast meat presented on the table at the same time. The soup was served by Elizabeth at one end of the table and then William carved the meat from the other end. In the 1860s, it was still a novelty to serve each course one after the other, and this setting reflects the ‘old’ style of dining, known as ‘a la française’.

In detail

The round table in front of the window was Elizabeth’s favourite place to write. Visitors to the house soon discovered that Elizabeth did not write in quiet isolation but worked in the midst of a bustling family home, with interruptions from children, callers and servants. Presumably the view of her beloved garden and conservatory (since demolished) was some compensation.

The Life of Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth met in 1850; the year that the Gaskells moved to Plymouth Grove. Their friendship lasted for five years until Charlotte’s death in 1855, at the age of 38. Charlotte stayed here three times, in 1851, 1853 and 1854. After Charlotte died, Elizabeth wrote the biography of her friend and fellow novelist. The challenge of writing an accurate and fair account of Charlotte’s life is evident in Elizabeth’s manuscript, in the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester. Each page shows her many corrections and amendments. The life of Charlotte Brontë was published in 1857.