Drawing Room

‘Does the drawing room look as it used to do – the piano and your table in the same place ... the same centre table with the books and work on it as of old?’

— Charles Eliot Norton to Elizabeth Gaskell, 1865

By early 1853, money was easier and they bought a new piano: a ‘semi-grand Broadwood’, a sign that the furnishing of the room was beginning to take shape. A few years later, in 1859, it was time to change the chair covers, and Elizabeth wrote to her friend, Charles Eliot Norton: ‘Yes! We have got our drawing-room chairs & sofas covered with a new chintz. Such a pretty one, little rosebuds and carnations on a white ground. All the other furniture stands where it did. By little bits we pick up little bits of prettiness (such as two Black Forest carved brackets at the fair at Heidelberg), but you’ll be happy to hear we are not rich enough to make many or grand changes. Indeed I don’t think I should like to do it, even if one could’.

Here Elizabeth served tea to visitors, listened to her daughters play the piano, sewed and sometimes dashed off a letter standing at the mantelpiece.

The chintz used for the curtains and chair covers today is copied from a pattern of the 1850s printed in Lancashire.

In detail


Elizabeth and William first travelled abroad together on a tour of Belgium and Germany in 1841. The holiday was a success, but William was a reluctant traveller, preferring to stay in Manchester or go walking in the Lake District or Scotland. Elizabeth, however, enjoyed European travel, often with one or more of her daughters. One of her happiest holidays was a trip to Italy in 1857 with Marianne and Meta. While in Rome, Elizabeth met the young American art historian, Charles Eliot Norton, who became a lifelong friend of the family.

On that occasion Julia and Florence were too young to travel, but this passport from 1863 refers to ‘four daughters’ as well as Elizabeth’s maid, Ann Hearn. The same year, Elizabeth returned to Italy with Meta, Julia, Florence and Hearn, taking in Rome, Florence, Perugia, Venice and Milan.

Charles Hallé and the Gaskells

Music was an important part of the Gaskells’ lives. William wrote and translated hymns, Elizabeth and her daughters played the piano and sang, and they all went to concerts and the opera. In 1849, classical concerts in Manchester were transformed by the arrival of the pianist and conductor, Charles Hallé.

The Gaskells regularly attended Hallé’s concerts, first at the Gentleman’s Concert Hall and later at the Free Trade Hall. Hallé lived in Greenheys, not far from Plymouth Grove, and became a family friend. Soon after he arrived in Manchester, Hallé began to give Marianne music lessons on the Gaskells’ new piano.