Longsight is a vibrant neighbourhood whose vibrance, as far as I can tell from my short sojourn here, is almost entirely contained within the walls of the local churches and mosques and community centres. I often see people spilling out into the sidewalk, children laughing, families strolling happily to or from an event. It is both lovely and quite lonely, for these are not open gatherings. There are few places to eat that are not fried chicken or take-out. There is nowhere to buy a great big cup of coffee the way I like it. There are few markets. There are many students, and furniture and bags of their rubbish now that they are gone.
It is hard to tell quite where Longsight ends and Victoria Park begins and the address says this is actually Rusholme – there’s a great blog on some of these changing boundaries here. All I know is that on my walking route to the city I often walked past Elizabeth Gaskell’s old house on Plymouth Grove, and it feels like it’s still Longsight so the contrast is quite something. We finally managed a visit. It was built in about 1838 as one of Manchester’s early suburban developments, planned by architect Richard Lane.
The Gaskell’s moved into the house in 1850, and the booklet notes they had chicken and ducks, a much larger garden, a cow in a neighbouring field. Hard to imagine. Harder to imagine paying £150 a year, but I know that was a lot of money then. So many people have been in this house. In 1851, Charlotte Brontë described it as
A Large, cheerful, airy house, quite out of the Manchester smoke.
There is a floorplan! I love those, I keep thinking I will write my murder mystery one day.
There is a lovely picture of the drawing room as it once was — this room sat empty for a long time as they couldn’t afford to furnish it. I quite loved knowing that too. Ah, the days of living within one’s means. And five servants.
Along with Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens was a regular visitor, Jane Eyre? The Pickwick Papers? Marvelous. John Ruskin was here too, and Harriet Beecher Stowe (but she leaves me fairly unimpressed as I mostly raged through Uncle Tom’s Cabin).
This is where Elizabeth Gaskell wrote Cranford (1851–53), North and South (1854–55) and the biography of her friend, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857). I had never heard of that one, how? She’d nearly finished Wives and Daughters when she died in 1865. Her family remained in the house until 1913, when her daughter Meta (Meta!) died. The campaign to preserve it was unsuccessful, the furniture sold off. But so much work has gone into restoring it as close to its original condition as possible, it’s lovely.
There are visiting cards on a salver in the entry hall (visiting cards! Cartes de visites!), people in the 1860s actually swapped portraits of themselves on small cards. These tidbits are partly why I love visiting places.
That of Elizabeth Gaskell herself.
The morning room is ‘designed to catch the morning light’. I like it when things do what they are supposed to, I rather want one that is not where I sleep, as at present. A study, where William Gaskell could work on his sermons (they are working on building a list of books the Gaskells owned to repopulate it).
I didn’t take many pictures, but this is the dining room, set up as if Elizabeth Gaskell were writing here. I quite loved that.
There is a brilliant and unexpected collection of Dürer prints Meta had collected that hang in the stairwell. Gaskell was also a keen gardener, and while the back garden has lost its former glory, I particularly love the way they do the front of the house, it is a joy to walk by. Upstairs a small look at how Manchester was then, and how much it has changed. This is the third place the Gaskell’s lived in this area, the other two are long gone. I am glad this is still here, and well worth a visit.