Falling in love with 84 Plymouth Grove. A blog by Janice, a volunteer
21st November 2014
An odd thing happens to a lot of people when they visit 84 Plymouth Grove.
They find themselves falling very much in love.
People expecting a stuffy, formal museum are greeted instead into a warm, inviting family home. They are invited to sit down in the Drawing Room, or Study and perhaps read a book. Or have a cup of tea and a slice of cake in the Servants’ Hall. All the while, being regaled by charming anecdotes and stories about the famous authoress, who used to live there.
As a small girl, I devoured anything I could get my little hands on that had anything to do with history, or classic literature. As a 29 year old, whose passion for these things had only grown with age, the opening of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House was too much of a lure for me to resist.
So, on the 5 October, as the house re-opened its doors, my fiancée and I dressed in our Sunday best and joined Janet Allan for a tour of the building. As Chair of the Gaskell Society, Janet was wonderfully well-equipped to immerse us in the interesting world of the Gaskells, keeping us gripped from one end of the house to the other. We were left completely star-struck by the name-dropping of several high-profile Victorian visitors to the house, most of them my literary heroes (I’m looking at you, Charlotte Brontë), and had to calm ourselves down with a rest in the Tea Room!
After the initial wonder had subsided, we wandered from room to room and back again, until I was utterly captivated. I was lucky enough to speak to volunteers, staff and trustees alike about the Gaskells and their home, until one lady, noticing my fervour for the place, offered me the chance to fill in a volunteer form.
And here I am, a few weeks into volunteering here and still utterly enthralled with my surroundings. I learn new things every day that I am here, and not just about the family and their home, but about the Victorian era and the way people lived; about Manchester at that time; about the Gaskells’ Unitarian Faith and how it grew amidst scandal.
I love that Elizabeth’s home has still retained the welcoming demeanour it would have had in her time here and that visitors are actively encouraged to touch and sit and truly experience everything the house has to offer. Being able to bridge those gaps that might have been ‘red-roped’ off brings history to people’s fingertips, gives it life; brings these fascinating people within imagination’s reach.
The house really does generate love and enthusiasm in its patrons. Everyone either has a story, or leaves with one.
For myself, Elizabeth Gaskell’s House has brought me full circle, by way of the most fabulous coincidence. As I spoke to a couple of ladies in the Drawing Room one day, our conversation moved to why I felt so passionately about history and heritage. I explained that, as a small girl, I went on a school trip to Lyme Hall, where I was lucky enough to be chosen to wear a Tudor costume for the day. This event absolutely fuelled the tiny spark inside me, a burgeoning curiosity about our past, to a full flame.
One of the ladies’ eyes lit up and she gasped in surprise;
“I know exactly which costume you mean. I was one of the team of ladies who made them.”
That wonderful moment, after nearly 22 years, where I could thank her for her part in shaping my character through a lifelong interest… well, you can’t buy that feeling.
And all because, like so many others, I fell in love with 84 Plymouth Grove.