I started volunteering at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House a year ago and I have loved getting to know the rich history of the Gaskell family and the House. I started volunteering because I’m interested in gender history and women’s writing, and I wanted to learn more about the heritage sector. One of my favourite things about coming to the House is the community of volunteers here. The volunteers have so many diverse interests, which means there is always something to learn and a fascinating conversation to be had.
I usually arrive at the House from 10am to get everything ready for visitors. All of the rooms need to be set up for the day, which means the shutters (which are original to the House!) need opening, the blinds need setting to the right levels and everything needs to be presented at its best. We even have an original Gaskell clock in the dining room which needs to be wound up. After the rooms and Tea Room downstairs have been set up, it’s time for the morning briefing and a brew, where we will find out any news about things going on around the House and our rota for the day.
First thing I’m on the front desk, which will involve welcoming and checking in visitors. Between visitors I usually help to catalogue the hundreds of books we have in the study, or do some research for projects that the Under 25’s group are working on. We’ve recently finished the sustainability garden trail, which has launched just in time for the summer holidays. It’s really rewarding to see the finished product after our hard work!
Testing the QR codes on the new garden trail created by the Under 25’s Volunteer Team.
Next it’s time to cover the study. I like the study because it is brimming with social history. I hadn’t heard of William Gaskell before joining the House, but I love learning about his Unitarian faith and how it influenced the social work and education he dedicated his life to. There are also so many fascinating objects in the study. One of my favourites is the portrait of William that hangs above the fireplace as it has a really interesting hidden history. Its artist was Annie Swynnerton, who was an active supporter of the Suffragettes and the first female to be elected to join the Royal Academy of Arts.
Now it’s time for lunch and a rummage through all the second-hand books,which is dangerous because there are always too many good ones to choose from. Restored from lunch and raiding the biscuits from the volunteer cupboard, I’ll finish the afternoon in the bedroom. The bedroom is my favourite room because as our most newly restored room, there is loads to learn about the research that went into choosing patterns, fabrics, furniture etc and how the restoration was carried out over the pandemic.
I also love the original and Gaskell-owned clothing we have in the wardrobe, from some of the Gaskell children’s gloves and shoes, to two examples of Victorian day-dresses from the mid-19th century. It’s always a delight to see the visitors react to the surprises that lie behind the wardrobe doors!
Once all of the visitors have been through it’s time to close everything back up again ready to do it all again next time!
Ellie Harrington, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
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