Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017 12:30 am by Cristina in , ,    No comments
Her own house is an apt sign of the unfair neglect suffered by Elizabeth Gaskell during many decades. It's sad that for such a long time it seemed to have been just one more house in what's still today a suburban neighbourhood, with even locals ignorant of the fact that an important - albeit also unknown - writer had lived there, as seen in the testimonies read in one of the upstairs rooms of the house.

But as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait. And just like Elizabeth Gaskell's work is now enjoying well-deserved recognition, her home is now cherished as it should have been ever since her daughters died. The opposite seems to have happened during the intervening years during which the house was even painted in a ludicrous pink colour.

Fortunately, the house has now been restored to its pleasant original light yellow and it's a treat to visit. The voluntary staff are all welcoming, helpful and knowledgeable, and they truly go out of their way to help visitors in any way they possibly can. We visited over the Easter holidays and there were activities planned for little ones, such as an Easter egg hunt and a workshop.

Stepping inside through the front door is quite thrilling in itself: So many Victorian celebrities crossed the same threshold!

The first room to see is the morning room, in which there's an information screen and also the lovely portrait of Elizabeth Gaskell's daughters when small. A glass cabinet holds several items which are extremely touching because of their simplicity: a doll, a couple of miniatures of Elizabeth Gaskell herself, some clothing items and her wedding veil. In another room there's her wallet, with her own name embossed on it. We were truly amazed to see that these objects had, for over a century, been kept in private hands which had known to cherish them properly.

Then there's William Gaskell's study, which is a bibliophile's delight with its floor-to-ceiling bookcases.

And then come the pièces de résistance: the drawing room and the dining room. The drawing room, of which there's a picture showing how it looked when the Gaskells lived there, is such a lovely room. The tea things are ready and you actually feel like sitting down while Elizabeth Gaskell pours you tea and mesmerises you with her great storytelling. It was also fun to imagine Charlotte Brontë hiding behind the curtains.

The dining room is, surprisingly, where Elizabeth Gaskell kept her writing desk. whichwas actually just a round table. The desk is placed right in front of the window, thus catching all the light and looking onto the garden. While you look around the desk, full of all the writing paraphernalia needed for writing in the 19th century, there's a recording of a pen scratching the paper while writing which helps create the right atmosphere. Excuse us, however, while we have a 'Room of One's Own' moment, though. While we wouldn't dream of taking William Gaskell's study away from him (he did need it for work and visits), we were pretty amazed to see that this great writer from the 19th-century made do with a simple round table. Servants would have been frequently around, setting the dining table, cleaning, etc. No wonder she once said that, 'the interruptions of home life are never ending'.

The rest of the room is a regular Victorian dining room, with a huge table which made true many of those 'imaginary dinner parties' many people fantasise about nowadays. Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens and many others sat there. The Gaskell's silver is on display there too, which again amazed us by the sheer fact of still existing.

After the dining room, the visit continues upstairs, via the staircase, which also brought to mind the many household names which once went up and down it. The upstairs rooms, which would have been the bedrooms in the Gaskells' time, haven't yet been re-created, though there are plans afoot for turning one of them into a master bedroom, with a cradle and all. However, they are well worth a visit, and not just for the fact of what they were. They are now used for explaining what the house has gone through: its past, what happened after the last of the Gaskells' daughters died, as well as telling the fascinating process of renovation. Impressively, while carrying out the works on the house, they came across things that may date from the Gaskells' time.

Then there's the basement, which would have been the servants' territory. Even if we didn't know how kind Elizabeth Gaskell was to servants, this area of the house would show it: it is an airy, luminous basement, which is now home to a lovely tea room-cum-secondhand bookshop as well as a workshop area.

Finally, there's the garden, which we couldn't truly enjoy as it was a rainy day, but which looked lovely and well-kept. During our visit, we saw a good many volunteers braving the rain and working in it. Dotted around the garden, there are stones with inscriptions about the house and garden, one of which is by Charlotte Brontë herself.

And then, the visit was over and we were sincerely sad to leave. There's something touching and moving throughout the whole visit. We don't believe in ghosts or anything, so we think it's all down to Elizabeth Gaskell herself, a lovely house and hard work on the part of the staff and the people who have made it what it is, but the house doesn't feel at all empty or museum-like. Throughout it all, you have the feeling of being inside a home, and not just any home, but one that used to belong to Elizabeth Gaskell, one of the best hostesses in Victorian times. Even after all these years, she still is.

Here's a link to a virtual tour of the house.


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