Exploring Victoria Park
22nd March 2018
Kate Dibble, one of Manchester’s most respected tour guides, led a walk around Victoria Park yesterday for the Friends of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House. We met outside the distinctive and highly decorative terracotta fronted Victoria Baths which when they were opened in 1906 were called ‘a water palace of which every citizen of Manchester can be proud’
From the baths, our first stop was Addison Terrace and specifically the house where the artist Ford Madox Brown lived for four years while painting the murals in the Large Hall in Manchester Town Hall. Charles Halle – founder of the Halle Orchestra– also lived in the house and came to the Gaskells at Plymouth Grove to give a young Marianne Gaskell piano lessons for a guinea a time.
Victoria Park was laid out by the architect Richard Lane who also designed a number of its villas. We stopped to admire the house where Sir Harry Smith lived. One of his many roles was as the British Governor of the Cape Colony and his wife’s name is commemorated in the name of the township Ladysmith.
One of the highlights of the walk was going inside Edgar Wood’s wonderful Arts and Crafts First Church of Christ Scientist on Daisy Bank Road. The marbled interior is as beautiful as its red brick exterior and we were so lucky that Kate had charmed the team who are currently working on the building to let us go inside. Interestingly, they were under impressed with the quality of Mr Wood’s brickwork!
Passing the house on Buckingham Terrace where the Pankhurst family lived in the 1890s before Richard Pankhurst died, we admired more beautiful Richard Lane villas. This one has been converted into apartments – when can I move in!
While Victoria Park as a whole is listed, many of the houses are in a poor state of repair and their future is uncertain. This house belonged to the Dukinfield Darbishares, who were friends of Elizabeth and William Gaskell and whose children used to regularly play together. It is certainly looking for a new use and restoration.
Many of the houses have been used in a variety of ways over their lives .This stately Italianate House, Ellerslie, was once a school where Angela Brazil, who I think is the inventor of the girl’s school story, was Head Girl. I’d like to think that the Madcap of the School and the Luckiest Girl in the School still roam around Victoria Park!
Alfred Waterhouse , the architect, was articled to Richard Lane’s practice and designed the grand house, Firwood, which is now part of Xaverian College. I know him best as the architect of the Manchester Town Hall. Our last stop was outside Marylands, also part of Xaverian College, which also has a Gaskell connection. It was the home of Sir Henry Roscoe, Professor of Chemistry at the new Manchester University and another friend of the Gaskell family. In 1858, whilst on a thirteen week holiday to Germany with Meta and Florence, Elizabeth Gaskell mentions in a letter that she has met Henry Roscoe in Heidelberg!
Victoria Park is full of treasures and surprises and I look forward to exploring and learning more. And if you get a chance to go on a guided walk with Kate, you’ll thoroughly enjoy it.