And so, to bed…Victorian author’s bedroom unveiled at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
10th May 2021
A new part of the visitor experience from 19 May 2021
The reopening of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester on Wednesday 19 May 2021 will be an extra special occasion because it will coincide with the first public reveal of Elizabeth Gaskell’s bedroom, which has seen a blank canvas transformed into a beautifully reimagined room over the last 12 months.
Frank Galvin, Chair of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and one of the volunteers leading the bedroom project, says, “This project has been the focus of our energies during the lockdown and we are delighted and excited by the thought of now sharing the results with our visitors. We’ve missed having them in the house and we are thrilled that even for returning visitors there will be something completely new to look forward to at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House.”
Following a successful fundraising campaign the Elizabeth Gaskell bedroom project was launched not long before the Covid-19 pandemic, which has added to the challenges faced by the small volunteer team that has carried out the work. As volunteer and Trustee Adam Daber, explains, “The starting point for our endeavor was the 1914 auction catalogue, which was produced when the house was sold following the death of Elizabeth’s daughter Meta. This gave us lots of clues of what we should be looking for together with our own extensive research. But even with that we found that we had to take a number of U-turns in a search that became global in its scope. The bed and the carpet created the biggest challenges, but now also help to create the wow factor when you walk in the room.”
The four poster bed is attributed to master makers Gillows of Lancaster and is circa 1785, reflecting of the fact that it is likely that some of Elizabeth’s own furniture may well have been second hand or family heirlooms. Many hours went into the research of this piece and many more into its construction, before a polish of beeswax and a dressing with a range of beautiful bedding fabrics. Finishing touches include two nightstands upon which visitors will be fascinated to see a selection of bedtime reading for both Elizabeth and her husband William. It was also known that Elizabeth’s preference throughout the house was for fitted carpets, and the team were fortunate to find one of the last pieces of Yorkshire made ‘Brussels’ looped carpet, which has been specially hand-stitched in panels just as it would have been in 1860.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s bedroom has been designed in vibrant colours, including vivid shades of cornflower blue and deep rich reds, as was the taste of the Victorian period. It’s a comfortable room, but not the largest bedroom in the house; she saved the largest for guests, which included fellow writer Charlotte Bronte. Known to have favourite writing spots throughout the house, it is thought that Elizabeth’s bedroom would have been one of these, whether for writing short stories or catching up on her correspondence.
Volunteer and Trustee Jane Baxter has been involved in sourcing much of the fabric that visitors will see in the room, but there is one aspect that has eluded her search. “The fabrics, both in colour and texture, help to make this room and I’m overjoyed at the results. However, I have an ongoing quest for items that will enable us to illustrate that this was also William Gaskell’s bedroom, so my search continues for suitable Victorian men’s clothing and personal items.”
One of the outcomes of the project was an even greater insight into Elizabeth Gaskell herself. For Louanne Collins, Vice Chair of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and a volunteer for the bedroom project, one of the fascinations was the realisation of how knowledgeable Elizabeth was about fashions of the time. Prized pieces that will go on display include an original hooded cape, lace gloves and lace shawls all belonging to the Elizabeth and her daughters and which are on loan from the Gaskell Family Collection. Louanne Collins says, “This project has enriched our insight into Elizabeth Gaskell in so many different ways that will add even further to the information that our guides are able to share with visitors to the house.”
But what of Elizabeth’s own family? What do they think of the project? Sarah Prince, Elizabeth Gaskell’s great, great, great Granddaughter and a huge supporter of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, says, “Mrs Gaskell’s bedroom will draw visitors to another dimension of the house. We are treated to not just the public rooms of this wonderful Victorian home, but a private and intimate space that would have nonetheless been at the heart of her home. Whenever I walk up the steps and through the front door, I wonder anew at the lives of my ancestors that were lived in this house. Now the journey up that beautiful staircase under the clerestory window will elevate us to another level, encompassing the essence of Mrs Gaskell into the whole house.”
“Thinking of Mrs Gaskell’s own reaction to the project, in her day I think that she would have been horrified by the thought of visitors to her bedroom, famously known for being a very private person. But I feel that were she a time traveller, and as a forward thinker, she would see the benefit of the conservation, restoration, education and enjoyment that her house gives to others.
“Every element of the Elizabeth Gaskell House project has been hard won; from the initial fundraising, the various set backs during the restoration and now a pandemic to interrupt and impede this new project. Those involved have, with their fortitude, tireless energy and enthusiasm completed another new and exciting project: the bedroom.”
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House will reopen from Wednesday 19 May 2021 when it will be open every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 11:00am to 4:30pm. Entry is £5.50 for adults and £4.50 for concessions (senior citizens and students). Tickets can be pre-booked up to two weeks in advance via www.ticketsource.co.uk/elizabeth-gaskell-house.