Collections Development Policy

Relationship to other relevant policies and plans of the organisation

Aims and Mission

  • Elizabeth Gaskell’s House (EGH) is owned and operated by the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust (MHBT). EGH aims to celebrate the life and literature of Elizabeth Gaskell through bringing the Gaskell family home to life for its visitors. MHBT will protect and promote the literary heritage of EGH, and promote the Gaskell family’s role in the history of Manchester.
  • MHBT will ensure that both acquisition and disposal are carried out openly and with transparency.
  • By definition, EGH has a long-term purpose and holds collections in trust for the benefit of the public in relation to its stated objectives. MHBT therefore accepts the principle that sound curatorial reasons must be established before consideration is given to any acquisition to the collection, or the disposal of any items in the museum’s collection.
  • Acquisitions outside the current stated policy will only be made in exceptional circumstances.
  • EGH recognises its responsibility, when acquiring additions to its collections, to ensure that care of collections, documentation arrangements and use of collections will meet the requirements of the Museum Accreditation Standard. This includes using Spectrum primary procedures for collections management. It will take into account limitations on collecting imposed by such factors as staffing, storage and care of collection arrangements.
  • EGH will undertake due diligence and make every effort not to acquire, whether by purchase, gift, bequest or exchange, any object or specimen unless the MHBT or the House Director and/or the Volunteer and Collections Manager is satisfied that the museum can acquire a valid title to the item in question.
  • EGH will not undertake disposal motivated principally by financial reasons.

History of the collections

  • EGH opened to the public in 2014 following a campaign to preserve the building as a museum and historic house celebrating the Victorian author, Elizabeth Gaskell. Elizabeth Gaskell lived at EGH from 1850-1865, and members of her family continued to live in the House until 1913. EGH was restored as a mid-19th century family home, and as such holds a collection of items dating largely from the 19th century. No collections were held at EGH prior to its purchase by MHBT.
  • The majority of objects in EGH’s collection are from the 19th century, with some objects dating earlier, from the late Georgian period to the early Regency, on the basis that Victorian families would likely have ‘recycled’ furnishings from earlier periods, acquiring second-hand items or items inherited from family. Objects have been chosen either because they were period-appropriate for a mid-19th century family home, in this case a late Regency/early Victorian suburban villa, to resemble furnishings described in Gaskell family records, such as in Elizabeth Gaskell’s surviving letters; or because they matched objects described in the records of the 1914 auction of the House’s contents.
  • EGH has ownership of very few original objects that belonged to the Gaskell family, and the majority of such objects are on loan from the Gaskell family and from other organisations. Other objects with associations to the Gaskell family have been donated or purchased.
  • Books in EGH’s collection have been chosen as they either match Gaskell family records of books the Gaskell family owned, were common/popular books during the time period the Gaskell family lived at EGH, were books that the Gaskells borrowed from Manchester’s Portico Library or because they have an association with the Gaskell family.

Overview of current collections

EGH uses the following categories for its Catalogue and Inventory. Accessioned objects are recorded in the Catalogue, whilst Un-Accessioned objects are only recorded at inventory-level.

ArtArtwork such as portraits, sketches, engravings, landscapes, sculptures, et cetera. Exact medium is identified in the object descriptions.
CeramicsFor example, dinner services, ornaments, tiles, et cetera.
DecorationDecorative period features that can’t easily be moved/removed, such as wallpaper and original Lincrusta wallcovering.
EphemeraFor example, leaflets, pamphlets, tickets, letters.
Facsimile (Inventory only)Copies of original items for visitor engagement, for example, artwork or letters.
Fixtures and fittingsPractical period features that cannot be easily moved/removed, such as fireplaces, plasterwork, or servants’ bells.
FurnitureLarger, more permanent items with a clear, practical purpose, for example, chairs, tables and bedroom furniture.
GlasswareFor example, decanters, drinking glasses or ornaments.
LightingFor example, Victorian gaslights, oil-lamps or candlesticks.
MapDepiction of a place/area/region; separate from artwork, particularly maps of Manchester and Lancashire.
MetalworkFor example, copper, brass, silver, cast iron, or wrought iron objects.
MiscellaneousOther objects that do not easily fit into other categories, for example, writing sets or boxes.
NumismaticsFor example, coinage, medals, et cetera.
Props (Inventory only)Display items that further the narrative of the room, for example, quills.
TextilesFor example, carpets, curtains, soft furnishings, tablecloths, costumes, et cetera.
Books 
List of object categories in the EGH collection

Themes and priorities for future collecting

Principles for future collecting

  • We want people to engage with the EGH collections as a resource that inspires greater understanding of the life and work of Elizabeth Gaskell, her family and their significance to Manchester and beyond.
  • We anticipate that we will collect:
  • Items that were owned by Elizabeth Gaskell and her family including items that were sold in the 1914 auction (with evidence of providance).
  • Objects that help interpret the story of the Gaskell family’s life in Manchester and help us present them to our visitors.
  • We will be aware of other collections in the city, and have due regard for the collecting priorities for other Accredited Museums in the region.

General Statements on Collecting

  • Strong preference will be given to items that:
    • Have strong provenance
    • Belonged to known individuals.
  • We will collect responsibly and within the boundaries of our resources.
  • We have a presumption against acquiring any object in poor condition and requiring a significant amount of conservation, unless the object is of major significance to the collection.
  • We will avoid collecting objects that present particular storage or handling problems or are hazardous due to the material from which they are made.
  • We will not collect duplicate material unless the provenance of the material is significant or unless there are identified needs, such as handling, education
  • We will not acquire an object if the donor/vendor/executor places conditions on the acquisition which we believe are impracticable.
  • We will make it clear to any owner of a prospective acquisition that, in accepting an object, we do not undertake to place it on permanent display.
  • We primarily collect items that are representative of the period during which Elizabeth Gaskell lived at the House, but we also collect items from the period that her husband and daughters continued to live at the House, up until 1913.
  • Decision-making about what the MHBT collects will be open and transparent.  If the object/s involve significant expenditure above the limit of the delegated budget decisions will be made in consultation with the Trustees.

Themes and priorities for rationalisation & disposal

  • The museum does not intend to dispose of collections during the period covered by this policy.  The museum has been in operation for only ten years and therefore does not face the issue of dealing with decades of passive collecting nor of inappropriate donations and bequests. 
  • If in the future it becomes advisable to dispose of collection items because of, for example, infestation, irreparable damage, legal or health and safety issues this will be by authorisation of the MHBT board and follow current Museums Association ethical guidelines.

Legal and ethical framework for acquisition and disposal of items

  • The museum recognises its responsibility to work within the parameters of the Museum Association Code of Ethics when considering acquisition and disposal.

Collecting policies of other museums

  • The museum will take account of the collecting policies of other museums and other organisations collecting in the same or related areas or subject fields. It will consult with these organisations where conflicts of interest may arise or to define areas of specialism, in order to avoid unnecessary duplication and waste of resources.
  • Specific reference is made to the following museum(s)/organisation(s):
    • The Gaskell Society
    • John Ryland’s Library
    • Manchester Art Gallery
    • Portico Library
    • Chetham’s Library
    • People’s History Museum
    • Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections
    • University of Manchester Library
    • Bronte Parsonage Museum
    • Working Class Movement Library
  • EGH has no immediate plans to enter into a joint acquisition agreement.  The House benefits from a number of long-term loans from museums and individuals.

Archival holdings

  • Elizabeth Gaskell’s House does not collect archives.  Archives relating to the Gaskell family are held by John Rylands Library.

Acquisition

The policy for agreeing acquisitions is:

  • The decision to acquire objects donated or bequeathed to the museum is delegated to the House Director. Purchases would be recommended to the Board of Trustees, with reasons set out for why EGH would make the purchase. The ultimate decision to purchase an object would be made by the Board of Trustees.
  • The museum will not acquire any object or specimen unless it is satisfied that the object or specimen has not been acquired in, or exported from, its country of origin (or any intermediate country in which it may have been legally owned) in violation of that country’s laws. (For the purposes of this paragraph ‘country of origin’ includes the United Kingdom).
  • In accordance with the provisions of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which the UK ratified with effect from November 1 2002, and the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, the museum will reject any items that have been illicitly traded. The governing body will be guided by the national guidance on the responsible acquisition of cultural property issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2005.

Human remains

  • Elizabeth Gaskell House does not hold or intend to acquire any human remains.

Biological and geological material

  • The museum will not acquire any biological or geological material.

Archaeological material

  • The museum will not acquire any archaeological material, other than 19th century material excavated within the grounds of EGH.

Exceptions

Any exceptions to the above clauses will only be because Elizabeth Gaskell House is:

  • acting as an externally approved repository of last resort for material of local (UK) origin
  • acting with the permission of authorities with the requisite jurisdiction in the country of origin
  • In these cases the museum will be open and transparent in the way it makes decisions and will act only with the express consent of an appropriate outside authority. The museum will document when these exceptions occur.

Spoliation

The museum will use the statement of principles ‘Spoliation of Works of Art during the Nazi, Holocaust and World War II period’, issued for non-national museums in 1999 by the Museums and Galleries Commission

The Repatriation and Restitution of objects and human remains

This section is not applicable to EGH.

Disposal procedures

  • All disposals will be follow UK Museum Accreditation Standard, following Spectrum primary procedures on disposal and in line with the Museums Association Collections Disposal Toolkit.
  • The governing body will confirm that it is legally free to dispose of an item. Agreements on disposal made with donors will also be taken into account.
  • When disposal of a museum object is being considered, the museum will establish if it was acquired with the aid of an external funding organisation. In such cases, any conditions attached to the original grant will be followed. This may include repayment of the original grant and a proportion of the proceeds if the item is disposed of by sale.
  • When disposal is motivated by curatorial reasons the procedures outlined below will be followed and the method of disposal may be by gift, sale, exchange or as a last resort – destruction.
  • The decision to dispose of material from the collections will be taken by the governing body only after full consideration of the reasons for disposal. Other factors including public benefit, the implications for the museum’s collections and collections held by museums and other organisations collecting the same material or in related fields will be considered. Expert advice will be obtained and the views of stakeholders such as donors, researchers, local and source communities and others served by the museum will also be sought.
  • A decision to dispose of a specimen or object, whether by gift, exchange, sale or destruction (in the case of an item too badly damaged or deteriorated to be of any use for the purposes of the collections or for reasons of health and safety), will be the responsibility of the governing body of the museum acting on the advice of professional curatorial staff, if any, and not of the curator or manager of the collection acting alone.
  • Once a decision to dispose of material in the collection has been taken, priority will be given to retaining it within the public domain. It will therefore be offered in the first instance, by gift or sale, directly to other Accredited Museums likely to be interested in its acquisition.
  • If the material is not acquired by any accredited museum to which it was offered as a gift or for sale, then the museum community at large will be advised of the intention to dispose of the material normally through a notice on the MA’s Find an Object web listing service, an announcement in the Museums Association’s Museums Journal or in other specialist publications and websites (if appropriate).
  • The announcement relating to gift or sale will indicate the number and nature of specimens or objects involved, and the basis on which the material will be transferred to another institution. Preference will be given to expressions of interest from other Accredited Museums. A period of at least two months will be allowed for an interest in acquiring the material to be expressed. At the end of this period, if no expressions of interest have been received, the museum may consider disposing of the material to other interested individuals and organisations giving priority to organisations in the public domain.
  • Any monies received by the museum governing body from the disposal of items will be applied solely and directly for the benefit of the collections. This normally means the purchase of further acquisitions. In exceptional cases, improvements relating to the care of collections in order to meet or exceed Accreditation requirements relating to the risk of damage to and deterioration of the collections may be justifiable. Any monies received in compensation for the damage, loss or destruction of items will be applied in the same way. Advice on those cases where the monies are intended to be used for the care of collections will be sought from Arts Council England.
  • The proceeds of a sale will be allocated so it can be demonstrated that they are spent in a manner compatible with the requirements of the Accreditation standard. Money must be restricted to the long-term sustainability, use and development of the collection.
  • Full records will be kept of all decisions on disposals and the items involved and proper arrangements made for the preservation and/or transfer, as appropriate, of the documentation relating to the items concerned, including photographic records where practicable in accordance with Spectrum procedure on deaccession and disposal.

Disposal by exchange

The museum will not dispose of items by exchange.

Disposal by destruction

  • If it is not possible to dispose of an object through transfer or sale, the governing body may decide to destroy it.
  • It is acceptable to destroy material of low intrinsic significance (duplicate mass-produced articles or common specimens which lack significant provenance) where no alternative method of disposal can be found.
  • Destruction is also an acceptable method of disposal in cases where an object is in extremely poor condition, has high associated health and safety risks or is part of an approved destructive testing request identified in an organisation’s research policy.
  • Where necessary, specialist advice will be sought to establish the appropriate method of destruction. Health and safety risk assessments will be carried out by trained staff where required.
  • The destruction of objects should be witnessed by an appropriate member of the museum workforce. In circumstances where this is not possible, e.g. the destruction of controlled substances, a police certificate should be obtained and kept in the relevant object history file.

This policy was adopted by the staff, trustees and volunteers at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House on: 4 December 2023

Approved by the Trustees of Manchester Historic Buildings Trust (Governing body of EGH): 4 December 2023

Date for review:  November 2026

The Collections Development Policy will be published on the museum website, elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk, and reviewed every 3 years.

Arts Council England will be notified of any changes to the collections development policy, and the implications of any such changes for the future of collections.

A Large Cheerful, airy house, quite out of Manchester smoke.

Charlotte Brontë on visiting the House, 1851