Morning Room

'Mr Gunton is going to give Meta two lessons a week till the holidays… Two aernoons she is to draw; & she is reading Alfieri (prey difficult Italian with Rosa), & beginning mathematics with Papa'

— Elizabeth Gaskell, 1850

When the Gaskells moved in it was used as a day-nursery and schoolroom. By the end of 1850 Marianne was old enough to go away to school, while her younger sisters were taught at home by their parents and professional tutors.

 

In detail

Ivory Brooch
This brooch was given to Elizabeth in 1863 by her daughters to mark her wedding anniversary.

 


Elizabeth Gaskell, 1865 by Meta Gaskell
The portrait of Elizabeth by Meta depicts her mother in middle age, at the end of her life. Meta sent the painting to their American friend, Charles Eliot Norton.

 


Elizabeth Stevenson, 1832 by William John Thomson
This miniature shows Elizabeth, shortly before she married William. The artist, William John Thomson, was the brother of Elizabeth’s stepmother, Catherine.

 

The Gaskells' Manchester

In 1750, Manchester was a town of fewer than 20,000 people. By 1850, when the Gaskells moved to Plymouth Grove, it had become Britain’s third largest city, with a population of some 250,000. Workers, attracted by the jobs in mills and factories, suffered the worst effects of rapid industrialisation: long hours, low wages, poor housing, contaminated water and bad sanitation, as well as the fear of unemployment and destitution. To some, Manchester was a symbol of technological progress and the creation of wealth. To others, like the young German Friedrich Engels, who studied the living conditions of the working classes while living in Manchester, the city was ‘...Hell upon Earth. Everything here arouses horror and indignation’.

Much of Elizabeth and William’s work to provide poor relief and education was inspired by their Unitarian faith. Then, as now, Unitarians were a Christian denomination, well known for their progressive ideas and commitment to social justice. Elizabeth also wrote about the lives of working people in her novels and stories. In the preface to mary Barton (1848), she said that her inspiration came from the people whom she saw each day on the busy streets of Manchester.

Besides the mills and the slums, the Gaskells’ Manchester was also a city of libraries, concert halls, theatres, shops and exhibitions. William took a leading role in influencing many of the educational and cultural institutions that were shaping the urban landscape of mid-century Manchester and still flourish today.