Tatton Park explores Elizabeth Gaskell's Cheshire for Cranford author's bicentenary

By Richard Moss | 23 August 2010
a painting of woman with auburn hair glancing backwards over her shoulder

(Above) Elizabeth Gaskell in an 1832 miniature by William John Thomson

Exhibition: Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cheshire, the Mansion at Tatton Park, August 30 until October 31 2010.

Although by birth a Chelsea girl, Elizabeth Gaskell was really at heart a doyenne of the Cheshire set.

The famous novelist and biographer of Charlotte Brontë may have been claimed by Manchester as one of its eminent Victorians, but before the great Cottonopolis provided a focus for her literary life she spent a happy childhood in the leafy Cheshire town of Knutsford.

Gaskell moved to Knutsford, her “dear, adopted native town” in infancy after the death of her mother. Living with her aunt Hannah Lumb in a large red-brick house overlooking Knutsford Heath, she drew inspiration from the bustling market town for what today is her most famous work of fiction, Cranford.

These literary and personal connections between celebrated author and local area provide the focus for Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cheshire, Tatton Park’s exhibition marking the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth.

Concentrating on the connections between Gaskell, her work and the local surrounding areas of Knutsford, Tatton Park, Dunham, Styal, Sandlebridge, Lower Peover, Tabley and Capesthorne, the exhibition draws on the writer’s own impressions of these local beauty spots.

Curator and historian Joan Leach has used Gaskell’s letters and writings to reveal how local landscapes and characters provided the inspiration for her work.

“Elizabeth once advised a would-be writer to be an ‘auditor and spectator of the scenes’ and it is clear that she gained inspiration for her own writing by this method,” says Lynn Podmore, Learning and Visitor Services Manager at Tatton.

“She focused on characters and places in and around the town of Knutsford, as well as the local gentry in their stately homes, the mill workers in industrial Manchester and the beauty of the Cheshire landscape.”

The variety of influences was evidently bountiful in nineteenth century Cheshire – a rich literary legacy and social history that, thanks in part to BBC costume dramas, lives on to this day.

A series of exhibitions and events are marking the 200th anniversary of Elizabeth Gaskell’s birth, see www.elizabethgaskell.co.uk for more information. For more about Elizabeth Gaskell, see www.gaskellsociety.co.uk.

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