On the 10 October 2016 a slim volume entitled Daily Devotions for the Closet by Rev. Samuel Merrivale inscribed to Elizabeth Gaskell as a gift from the Rev. William Turner of Newcastle was returned to its former home through the kind donation of two women, Mrs. Dorothy Barker and her daughter Caroline Jenks.
Mrs. Barker’s grandfather, the prominent philatelist George Ginger, had purchased the book from the 1914 house sale after the death of Meta Gaskell. Ginger lived in Richmond Grove, off Albert Road, which would become the newly extended Plymouth Grove and would have known of Julia and Meta Gaskell.
William Turner was born in Wakefield on 20 September 1761 and was educated at Idle, then Bolton and later at Warrington Academy (1777–81) then Glasgow University (1781–2), finally taking up his ministry at Hanover Square, Newcastle-on-Tyne where he remained for fifty-nine years, retiring in September 1841.
In Newcastle he was a main founder of the Literary and Philosophical Society (1793), and acted as secretary till 1833; he was also a founder of the Natural Historical Society (1824) and a chief projector of the Newcastle branch of the Bible Society. From 1808 till his death he was visitor of Manchester College (then at York) and until 1840 he delivered the visitor’s annual address.
In 1799 Henry Holland, later Sir Henry Holland, Elizabeth’s cousin, attended Turner’s school in Newcastle and studied there for four years and living throughout that time with the family. Later he paid tribute to the appetite for learning that his schooling in Newcastle had given him. (Chapple Early Years, p. 149). Elizabeth also visited the Turner family in Newcastle, spending two successive winters there in 1830 and 31.
FAMILY: It is through his first wife, Mary, (m. 1784, d. 16 Jan. 1797) that Turner is related to Elizabeth Gaskell. Mary Turner’s mother, Ann Holland was Elizabeth’s great aunt; sister of Elizabeth Gaskell’s grandfather, Samuel Gaskell of Sandlebridge. Their daughter, also Mary, married John Gooch Robberds in 1811. Robberds was the senior minister at Cross St. Chapel when William Gaskell was appointed junior minister in 1828. The Robberds lived first at 42 Mosley St, then at Greenheys, Grosvenor Sq. and by 1846 Acombe St. Manchester. Chapple and Chadwick suggest that it was at the Robberds’ house that Elizabeth met William.
THE BOOK: Daily Devotions for the Closet by Rev. SAMUEL MERIVALE This book supplied prayers for every day of the week, morning and evening with a supplement, consisting of prayers for a second week, and of collects and occasional prayers, ‘adapted to the various circumstance and relations of Life’ with a capital L. By 1828 it had gone into a fourth edition. This copy is on display in the Morning Room at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House.
Turner survived all but one of his children and died in Lloyd St. Greenheys at the age of 98. In 1851 Gaskell writes to Marianne: ‘After tea to Miss Mitchell’s to read to old Mr. Turners which I mean to try and do very often for his sake and Miss Mitchell’s’ (L. 833);
and later in 1856 she writes of settling an allowance on a Miss Mitchell whose only lodger is ‘Old Mr. Turner (94 ) and his companion Miss Howarth.‘ (L. p. 384). So there was still contact between Elizabeth and William Turner when he was an old man.
Dr. Diane Duffy, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House