Admiring the Gaskell Tower in Knutsford
11th April 2018
It’s about a forty-five minute train ride from Manchester to Knutsford where Elizabeth Gaskell spent her childhood and girlhood at her aunt’s house- and the railway station is right in the centre of the town. Here is Heathwaite House, where Elizabeth lived with her mother’s sister Hannah Lumb; the church where she and William Gaskell were married; and Brook Street Chapel, the Unitarian chapel where she is buried in a family grave with William and two of her daughters, Meta and Julia.
Knutsford is the model for Hollingford in ‘Wives and Daughters’ and most famously it is Cranford! There is a blue plaque walk around the town which points out the buildings which she incorporated into the stories – and the people who lived in them who she used to create those Cranford characters.
We were meeting friends on King Street which runs along the bottom of the town and passed the Gaskell Tower which is now part of the Belle Époque restaurant but which is such an extraordinary tribute to Elizabeth Gaskell.
The Gaskell Tower was designed by Richard Harding Watt who was a local business man who’d made his money as a very successful Manchester glove manufacturer. He had travelled extensively in Europe bringing back a love of the extravagant architectural styles which characterise his buildings in Knutsford. He had studied drawing but had no architectural training and commissioned a number of architects to work with him to execute his designs – William Longworth was the architect working with him on the Gaskell Tower.
The Tower opened in 1907 and was designed to house council offices, a coffee house and ballroom and also to be a memorial to Mrs Gaskell – a niche in the side of the Tower which looks over King Street holds a bust of our author.
Elizabeth Gaskell in Knutsford features in Discover Amazing Women by Rail which has just been launched by the Mid Cheshire and Calder Valley Line. Expect to hear more of my adventures!
Lesley – House Volunteer