Gaskell House Blogs

Behind Closed Doors

26th January 2021
in blog, Collection, other

We are pleased to report that, despite another lockdown, our restoration of Elizabeth’s bedroom has been gathering pace behind the scenes and we have now acquired many of the items of furniture on our shopping list.

We know the original four-poster bed the Gaskells had was located in the centre of the left-hand wall as we found evidence of the bell pull (to ring for the servants) mechanism during the original House restorations. From the description in the Auction Catalogue of 1914 when the House contents were sold, we know that the bed in this room was a “Mahogany four-post bedstead, fluted pillars and hair mattress” so it was clear that a bed this grand would be the focal point of the bedroom.

After an extensive search, we were lucky enough to find the perfect bed!

This stunning George III four-poster dates from the 1790s and is attributed to Gillows of Lancaster. Founded around 1730, they gained a reputation for making very high-quality furniture. They made furniture for aristocratic houses such as Tatton Hall, near Knutsford in Cheshire (close to where Elizabeth spent her childhood, coincidentally) and are referred to by Jane Austen and Thackeray; and in one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Operas.

The bed has an impeccable provenance, having only been in two previous homes. It was originally in Bank House, Hull which was also known as Haworth Hall after its occupants, the Haworths, an old and influential Yorkshire family who were timber merchants and extensive landowners. It is thought some of them were baronets.
The bed was sold in 1936 and moved to The Old Rectory in Winestead, East Riding of Yorkshire and in 1965 was featured in Country Life. Unusually, it is all original apart from the castors and the hangings and still has the original finish and patina. The fluted pillars are as the Gaskells’ four-poster described in the Gaskell House 1914 Auction Catalogue and it still has its traditional heavy sail-cloth mattress support as used by Gillows of Lancaster on their beds.

We intend to keep the hangings for the time being as they blend perfectly with our choice of curtain fabric in style and colour.

We already have a fine collection of bedding, acquired during the first lockdown by one of our Trustees who is a textiles expert (see links below).

Shortly after we acquired the bed, we found a pair of “Nightstands” (bedside cabinets) which are of the same period. These have small cupboards at the bottom where the chamber pots would have been kept. What particularly appealed to us is that they are perfect for displaying books on top – a real asset for the bedroom of Elizabeth Gaskell, as we continue to add to her collection of bedtime reading.

If you are reading this and thinking that the 1790s Georgian period is too early for Elizabeth Gaskell, well, we know that Elizabeth sometimes bought furniture second-hand. She writes about finding William’s desk in a second-hand shop and instructs Marianne to check it will fit in the study; so, it is feasible that with an item as expensive as a four-poster bed she may well have been thrifty and bought second-hand.

A very generous donation of furniture towards the end of last year meant that we could tick a few more items off our shopping list including a very rare example of a Regency towel stand, a brass fender the perfect size for our hearth, two rush-seated chairs and various other items.

If you have visited Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, you will have seen the beautiful chintz featured in the Drawing Room in the rather grand curtains and the seat coverings. This was printed for us from a pattern in the John Lewis fabric archive.

We didn’t have the budget for anything so grand with the bedroom, but this didn’t matter too much as, for the bedrooms, the Victorians often used old carpets and curtains that were no longer good enough for the main downstairs rooms. Their bedrooms were rarely seen by people outside of the family and were considered far less important than the main downstairs rooms.

For this reason, we decided to opt for a simple pole system for the bedroom curtains and a pretty, off-the-shelf chintz (seen below) which blends really nicely with the wallpaper and bed hangings in colours and style. The chintz is called “Roxburgh” and we particularly like it because of its authentic-looking background and pattern.

We have also chosen a fine cotton lace curtain from MYB Textiles who supplied the lace for the Drawing Room and are manufacturers of traditional Nottingham lace designs.

We are thrilled to have made such good progress, but we’re not quite finished yet.

As well as the mattress, we still need to complete Elizabeth and William’s bedtime reading collection, and buy chamber sticks (bedroom candles), bell pulls, water glasses, items for the dressing table, an oilcloth for in front of the washstand and have the curtains and cushions made and the chaise longue re-covered. 

We still need another £1000 to cover all these final expenditures, if you can support us with a donation of any amount please do so via this link.

Jane Baxter
Volunteer and Trustee at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

Find out more about earlier progress on the bedroom

Bedroom Update – August/September 2020
The Transformation Begins – October 2020

And we've got a house. Yes! we really have

Elizabeth Gaskell, 1850