Gaskell House Blogs

A Salford Unitarian Family

11th November 2021
in blog, other, People

One of our volunteers has just discovered a family connection to William Gaskell! It might not be a cafe in Paris, but if we sit in the Tea Room at the House long enough we might all find we’re connected to the Gaskell Family in some way!

So – in best Gaskell fashion – let’s tell the story. Lovely volunteer Jane has been researching her family history, discovering that her great-grandfather, Arthur Bowes, and her great-great-grandfather, Isaac Bowes, were Salford Unitarians.

Isaac Bowes (1822 – 1900) was born in Yorkshire, but moved to Salford in the 1850s, poached by a Mr Barningham, who was opening a second site for his ironworks business: W & J Barningham. Isaac joined the firm as its bookkeeper and over time was promoted to Managing Director. The Bowes family lived in Pendleton in Salford. In 1854, Isaac opened a bookseller and tobacconist shop at 11 High Street, Pendleton, which was managed by his sister, Ellen.

Isaac was one of the prime movers in the establishment of the Unitarian Chapel in Pendleton which opened in 1874.  His son Arthur, Jane’s great-grandfather, kept a brief diary between April 1873 when he was 15, and August 1875, when he was 17. An entry in the diary records the progress of the building: ‘The new chapel getting on nicely and finished in verdant green.’ Both Isaac and Arthur attended the opening of the Chapel and Arthur again records the event in his diary: ‘Opening of new Unitarian Chapel and soiree in Pendleton Town Hall. Robt Laird Collier from Chicago preached the opening sermon. Sermons by Gaskell and Brooke Herford.’

Pendleton Unitarian Chapel

An article in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser on Wednesday, June 3 1874 gives a rather fuller description of the event!

‘The opening of the Pendleton Unitarian Free Church, which has been erected at the corner of Cross-lane and the Pendleton-road, took place yesterday. The proceedings commenced by a service in the new building, when a sermon was preached by the Rev Robt Laird Collier DD of Chicago and a very liberal collection made in aid of the building fund. The members of the Unitarian persuasion in this district formerly worshipped in a little chapel in Ford-street Salford, but the congregation increasing they removed to a larger building in Pendleton. Here they have been located between three and four years, and in consequence of still increasing numbers of attendants it was found necessary to erect a large and substantial structure, and the result has been the erection of the present building, which will accommodate 400 persons. The style of architecture is found on the geometric type which prevailed in the brick and marble churches of Northern Italy, and the work has been carried out from the designs and under the direction of Mr Thomas Worthington, of Manchester and London. Mr Head is the General Contractor, and the cost of the building will not exceed £3000. Towards this sum about £2000 have been contributed. In the evening a soiree, which was very numerously attended, was held in Pendleton Town Hall under the presidency of the Mayor, Mr Richard Harwood, when addresses were delivered by the Revs RL Collier, W Gaskell, SA Steinthal and other gentlemen.’

William Gaskell attended the openings of a number of Unitarian Chapels across Manchester and Salford. Read more about the Dunham Road Unitarian Chapel here, and the Chapel on Upper Brook Street here. Sadly, the Pendleton Chapel has been demolished and the site is now taken by a MacDonalds drive-thru’.

Despite moving to Blackpool shortly before his death, Isaac was buried at Monton Unitarian Chapel, Eccles – an indication perhaps that his heart remained with the Unitarians of Salford. A large memorial stone to him can still be seen there.

Isaac Bowes’ memorial stone

Whether or not Arthur remained a Unitarian is still being explored. Certainly when his eldest daughter, Florrie, Jane’s grandmother, married a Roman Catholic, he was most displeased, echoing Elizabeth and William’s displeasure when their daughter Marianne was interested in Catholicism.

Imagine Jane’s excitement on discovering that not one, but two close ancestors had been in the same room as William Gaskell. If only Elizabeth had been there too, perhaps they would have been invited to tea!

Jane Mathieson and Lesley Burn, Volunteers at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

The interruptions of home life are never ending

Elizabeth Gaskell 1863