The Gaskell family

The Gaskell family

Elizabeth (known to her family as Lily)

Elizabeth’s diary and her many wonderful letters, show her as a conscientious mother, deeply concerned about her family. But she was also a prolific writer, a volunteer teacher and charity worker, a traveller (usually with a daughter but without William) and a very sociable woman. She would mix happily with people of all types and she used her experiences in her writing. She seems to have been a charming but independent-minded woman. Her enterprise is shown in the fact that she bought a large house in Hampshire without William’s knowledge, as a surprise present for him and as security for her daughters. She died there suddenly of heart failure on 12th November 1865, aged 55.

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William was born in Warrington in 1805, and went to Glasgow University at the age of 15. He was an exceptionally talented man with many interests, and co-founded the Unitarian College in Manchester as well as a journal which he edited. He taught at Owens College and in various working men’s clubs and institutes, and was active in the work of the Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association. He wrote hymns and poems, gave talks on poetry and Lancashire dialect, was chairman of the Portico Library and on the committee of Manchester Literary and Philosophical Association. He died in 1884, working to the end.

Marianne (also known as Polly or Minnie)

Marianne, born in 1834, was the eldest daughter and seems to have had a very practical nature, becoming increasingly relied upon to help her mother in domestic matters. After a long courtship, she married her second cousin, Thurstan Holland, and moved away from Manchester. She died in 1920.

Margaret Emily (always referred to as Meta)

Born in 1837, Meta was regarded by her mother as the most talented of the daughters. In spite of a brief engagement, Meta remained unmarried and stayed at Plymouth Grove till her death in 1913. She was a gifted artist and a friend of Ruskin and Holman Hunt, and after her mother’s death became her literary executor. She was very supportive of education for women and became a founder governor of Manchester High School for Girls.

Florence (known as Flossie)

Born in 1842, Flossie seemed to her mother to be the least talented of her children but was described by Fanny Wedgwood as a beauty. She married young and moved into a house in Hyde Park, London. She died, childless, at the age of 39.

Julia Bradford

The youngest daughter, Julia, was born in 1846, and charmed Charlote Bronte when she came to stay at Plymouth Grove. She never married but she and Meta, as the Miss Gaskells, carried on the family tradition of entertaining and philanthropy after the death of their parents. Thackeray’s daughter wrote after a visit to Plymouth Grove: ‘O what kind ladies! O what a delicious dinner! O what a nice room!’ Julia died in 1908.