Gaskell House Blogs

Going Green with the Gaskells

9th December 2021
in blog, Garden, People

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House currently holds a Silver Award for Green Tourism – we’re striving for Gold –  and we’re rightly  proud of our policy on sustainability (read our full policy here). We are always looking for ways to reduce energy usage and waste, to encourage visitors to use public transport and to support our local Ardwick community. We think we do pretty well, although there is always room for improvement. But as with many issues at the House, we ask ourselves : What would Elizabeth think? Would she support our efforts?

Here’s what our research group think?

Environmentalism is a relatively recent concept, but members of the Gaskell family were, in their own way, environmentalists. The Victorian concept of thrift meant that very little was wasted – clothes were mended, dresses for growing daughters handed on and let down, old shawls made into a jacket, and kitchen scraps fed to the pigs. The family kept a cow, chickens and ducks, as well as pigs, so they could provide much of their own food as well as using the animals’ manure in growing vegetables in their garden. Heat from the kitchens was piped through to the conservatory, thus making use of a surplus resource. Items were bought second-hand and, as one of her many acts of charity, Elizabeth Gaskell begged scraps of fabric from a mill-owner, so that patchwork cloaks could be made for old women in the workhouse.

The Gaskell family was also very aware of the benefits of time spent in natural environments for mental and physical refreshment. In more than one of her pieces of fiction Elizabeth Gaskell mentions workers from Manchester going out into the countryside and how the memories of these trips will remain with them as ‘images of peace and beauty’. She makes clear the polluted nature of the Manchester of her time, its adverse effects on health, and the importance of green spaces. In the same spirit, her two daughters contributed £500 towards the establishment of the Swinton Grove Park*. William Gaskell was an active member of the Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association, and Elizabeth helped him in fund-raising for this cause. From the £800 that she earned for The Life of Charlotte Bronte, she gave £100 towards a new parish pump at Haworth, a place which was notorious for its unhealthy water supply. The Gaskell family’s hostility to pollution and love of green spaces was both spiritual and practical.

While super proud of our Silver Award, we’re not standing still!  Over the past year we’ve:

  • Changed to paraben and SLS free hand-wash in the toilets, re-filling existing plastic dispensers. We reuse dispensers for dishwasher tablets and washing up liquid in the kitchen, refilling washing up liquid bottles.
  • Stopped selling bottled still water – we now offer chilled tap water which is available to visitors to help themselves free of charge.
  • Stopped selling drinks cartons with plastic straws. Orange and blackcurrant cordials are available in re-usable beakers and refills are free.
  • Created signage to remind visitors to switch off taps.
  • Changed our heating controls to be more efficient and only heat rooms when we need them.
  • Continued to accept donations of china tea services (to use in the tea room or sell) and second-hand books.
  • Planted fruit trees in the garden and enlarged the vegetable plot.
  • Installed a cold frame so the volunteer gardeners can propagate their own plants to be sold to visitors to help raise funds for the garden.

*The House continues to support The Friends of Swinton Grove Park by opening the House free of charge to all who attend the annual community fun day.

Do read the EGH Responsible Visitor Charter  and if you have any ideas on other initiatives you would like us to implement at the House, please get in touch!

Sally Jastrzebski-LLoyd – House Manager

And we've got a house. Yes! we really have

Elizabeth Gaskell, 1850