Gaskell House Blogs

Discovering Agnes and Eliza Paterson

30th June 2022
in blog, People

One of the somewhat frustrating things about reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s letters, is that we get tantalising glimpses of people whom the family knew well and socialised with, but about whom we know very little. These elusive players on the Gaskell stage include Agnes and Eliza Paterson, and even more in shadow, a Mr and Miss Satterfield.

The Collected Letters‘, edited by Chapple and Pollard, includes letters written by Elizabeth Gaskell to both Paterson sisters and also mentions them and the Satterfields in letters to other correspondents. The letters we have are dated between 1849 and 1859. Our first sighting of the family is in a letter to Catherine Winkworth written on 21 August 1849:

‘Do you know what an American ‘Bee’ is? You know it’s the sort of pic-nic they get up in the back-woods, when they want to build a house or a bridge, &, in a hurry. Well, I’m going to have a ‘Bee’ here next week, and I wish you and Emily would come to it. There are 192 tucks to be run in my children’s garments all at once! so I am going to have a ‘Bee’. Agnes and Eliza Paterson are coming, and if Selina and Emma Shaen are get-at-able from Alderley, I shall have them too.’

There is continuing contact between the families. She writes to Marianne on 28 August 1851:

‘Friday we (Meta & all) went to the Satterfields to tea. Pleasant quiet evening, made pleasant by the kind unpretending tone of the conversation. No ill natured remarks but everything gentle & good.’

Elizabeth Gaskell knew the Patersons well enough to be invited to Agnes’s wedding to Charles Sandars on 22 April 1851:

 ‘I had a great puzzle if I should go to Agnes Paterson’s wedding on the Tuesday morning or not, – as I did not like leaving Emily Langshaw who comes so seldom, and yet I knew the Patersons wished us very much to come; so we decided it this way. EL was to rest very late in bed, and as the breakfast was to be at ½ half 8, we thought we should be back again before EL had done breakfasting with Tottie. Hearn, Maria & the two little ones, set out to call for Meta at Mrs S’s, and to go on to Birch church to see the marriage, while Papa and I walked to the house. Agnes saw the little ones peeping through the fence and sent for them in, but they took fright and set off home, as soon as they saw the smart messenger, but it was very kind of her to think of them at such a time, was it not?’(Late April 1851)

And in this same letter to Marianne:

‘Eliza Paterson comes to spend the day with us today; she & Mr Satterfield & Miss S are going up to 4, Euston Square on the 29, and then I think to Switzerland for the summer.’

These letters speak of something much more than a casual acquaintance.

Jenny Uglow makes only one mention of the Paterson sisters in her biography of Elizabeth Gaskell. She maintains it was Agnes and Eliza, who were already taking lessons from William Gaskell, who introduced the Winkworth sisters to him as a teacher. The Winkworth sisters were indeed taught by William Gaskell for a number of years, and became firm friends of the whole Gaskell family. And the Winkworth sisters certainly did know the Patersons. The biographical ”Memorial of Two Sisters : Susanna and Catherine Winkworth‘ includes five letters from Catherine to Eliza. The informal and chatty tone of these letters suggests a close friendship between the Winkworth and Paterson families. From Catherine to Eliza:

‘What do you think I did last night? I went to Halle’s concert! Is that not something wonderful?  I assure you it was so regarded by all the friends I met there. You can’t think how I enjoyed hearing a little music again, after a fast of more than two years. It is running in my head this morning and making me feel quite happy. One of the things Mrs Gaskell has been busy about is a picture that is going to be painted, or in the course of painting, of Mr Wright, the prison philanthropist.’ (February 1850)

And another letter from Catherine to her sister-in-law Emma where she writes:

‘During Mamma’s absence Selina and I have been keeping house, and the chief features of our reign have been that we have had Eliza Paterson to stay with us.’ (22 November 1851)

Seven letters to both Eliza and Agnes are included in Chapple and Shelston’s ‘Further Letters of Elizabeth Gaskell’ with an intriguing ownership attribution to Mrs Susan Kearney. There is also a brief biographical note which reads:

‘Agnes (b Rotterdam 1822-89) Eliza (d 1856 ). Orphaned when young, they lived with their uncle Joshua Satterfield and his spinster sister Harriet and were known to the Winkworths by December 1839.’

So far, so interesting!

So what a delight to welcome Sarah Carruthers to the House a few weeks ago – the great great granddaughter of Agnes Paterson! (That’s her on the left in the photograph at the top of this blog.) She brought with her a copy of the 1851 census which records the sisters living at 5 Anson Road Manchester with their uncle and aunt, Joshua and Harriet Satterfield.  Sarah told us that Joshua Satterfield was a silk merchant and draper with a shop at 13 St Anns Square in Manchester and family history recounts that Elizabeth Gaskell used to buy dress materials from the Satterfield shop. Holland is given as the two sisters birthplace, though Agnes’ birth year is given as 1823 (not 1822 as Chapple and Shelston suggest) and Eliza’s birth year is 1824. Sadly, if Chapple and Shelston give a correct date for her death, she died when she was only thirty two, and was in regular and ongoing contact with the Gaskells until her death.

Our last sighting of Agnes, in the letters which are available, is in 1859, when Elizabeth notes in a letter to Harriet Martineau that she has been in contact with Agnes ( aka Mrs Charles Sandars ) trying to establish the identity of the author of ‘Scenes from a Clerical Life‘. So very Gaskell…

‘I recommended Scenes from a Clerical Life to one or two people among them a Mrs Charles Sandars, the very accurate wife of a land agent, who has long lived near Coventry, now lives near Derby. She said in reply to my information about Liggins being the author – ( certainly 18 months ago,) that her husband had known him, – & had known most of the people named in Clerical Life – I remember her saying that the names were so little disguised as that Mr Dempster in ‘Janet’s Repentance’ (the finest story yet) was a Mr Dempster-Hemming…’ (29 October 1859)

Those letters from Elizabeth Gaskell included in ‘Further Letters’ were kept by the family and discovered in a brown A4 envelope by Sarah’s mother, Susan – of the Mrs Susan Kearney attribution. What an amazing discovery! She contacted John Chapple with her find – cue great excitement and extra letters to be included in their second collection!

Sarah very kindly left photocopies of the letters she has with us at the House. One of them is particularly interesting – addressed to Agnes and written on 15 October 1857, I can’t find a transcription of it in either volume of the letters collections. Gaskell signs herself off, ‘yours affectionately‘, again implying a considerable bond of continuing friendship between the families.

Sarah and her husband had made a special journey to Elizabeth Gaskell’s House to see where Agnes and Eliza had spent time with the Gaskell family, but I have to think we at the House benefited most from their journey. We are so grateful to have met them and for their generosity in sharing their family story with us.

Lesley – Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

The interruptions of home life are never ending

Elizabeth Gaskell 1863