Welcome to the house

'And we've got a house. Yes! we really have.'

- Elizabeth Gaskell, 1850

During those years, Elizabeth wrote all but the first of her books, including Cranford (1851–53), North and South (1854–55) and the biography of her friend, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857). Her final novel, Wives and Daughters, was nearly finished when she died in 1865.

Elizabeth and her husband William moved to Plymouth Grove when their eldest daughter, Marianne, was 15 and their youngest, Julia, was 3 years old. In between were Meta, aged 13, and Florence, aged 7. Initially they were all educated at home. Five servants, including Ann Hearn, Elizabeth’s lady’s maid, completed the household.

Today we want you to feel you are in a family home, a home that was also the house of an important writer.

The house was built in about 1838 on the outer edge of the growing city, as part of a new suburban development planned by the Manchester architect, Richard Lane. Plymouth Grove provided easy access to the commercial and cultural centre of the city, while being comfortably distant from the noise and pollution of the factories and mills. Substantial houses like this were set in tree-lined streets. Elizabeth was delighted with her new garden (much bigger than today) with space to grow flowers and vegetables, and for the girls to play. There were also chickens and ducks, and later the Gaskells kept a cow in the neighbouring field.

The Gaskells moved into the house during the spring of 1850, paying £150 a year in rent – a lot of money at that time. The house was larger (and more expensive) than their previous home on Upper Rumford Street. Elizabeth loved the new house but felt that it was ‘selfish’ to spend so much ‘while so many are wanting’. She resolved to ‘make the house give as much pleasure to others as I can’. Soon the large house was filled with family activities and streams of visitors. Students and colleagues called on William in his study, and Elizabeth’s friends, including Charlotte Brontë, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens and John Ruskin, visited or stayed.

After Elizabeth’s death in 1865, William stayed in the house with his two unmarried daughters until he too died in 1884. Meta and Julia lived here for the rest of their lives, well known for their active and generous contributions to educational and cultural organisations. When Meta died in 1913 there was a campaign to preserve the house as a memorial to Elizabeth Gaskell. When this failed, the house and contents were sold. A hundred years later this ambition is being realised and we are bringing it back to life as it was in around 1860.