Household Commotion – A New Exhibition at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

5th June 2018
in Events, news

A new servants exhibition at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House opens this month, featuring a previously unseen letter discovered during the restoration work.

Household Commotion’: Elizabeth Gaskell and the ‘awful treasure’ of her servants, 1832-1865, is a brand-new exhibition at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, created by volunteers with the support of Heritage Lottery Funding.

This new interactive exhibition explores in detail some of the individual servants that worked for the Gaskell family including Hearn, Elizabeth’s faithful housekeeper, and Will Preston, the outdoor servant from Cumbria, whose letter was found during the renovation work.

A Letter to William

In July 2016, while working on the Coach House at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, workmen discovered a letter wedged between the brickwork and roof trusses in what is now the Nightingale room. Although the pages were badly scorched, they were reasonably legible.

It was sent from Maryport, Cumberland, in June 1853, to William (Will) Preston, a servant to the Gaskell family. In one of her letters, Elizabeth Gaskell noted that Will slept in the attic space above the stables.

Volunteer, Diane Duffy, said “It was an amazing survival story. Although it looked frayed, brown and brittle round the edges, the letter has survived for over 160 years, even managing to escape the builders’ hammers and therefore deserves to have its story told; and what a fascinating story it is.

The letter includes talk of lost love and a trip to Carlisle races, and has led to a fascinating research project for Diane Duffy, including several trips to Cumbria to find Will’s family home and grave.

The Gaskells recruited many of their servants from families they knew. The Preston’s lived at Skelwith Bridge, Westmorland. The farm house also served as a guest house, and was where Elizabeth Gaskell met William Wordsworth in 1849.”

The letter will be on display as part of the exhibition together with more intriguing background information about Will and the fellow servant he went on to marry.

Described by Elizabeth Gaskell in a letter as an ‘awful treasure’, servants played an important role in keeping the House running but they also each had their own foibles and stories to tell, some of which can be found out through the exhibition.

The exhibition is included in admission and there will be special events throughout the year including a talk on Will Preston by Diane Duffy. See website for details.


Notes to editors

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1810-65) was born in London and brought up in Knutsford, Cheshire. In 1832 Elizabeth married William Gaskell, who was assistant minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester and later lived at 84 Plymouth Grove with her family from 1850 until her death in 1865. The two unmarried Gaskell daughters, Meta and Julia, lived in the house until Meta’s death in 1913.

The House is a Grade II* listed property, was built around 1835-1841 and is a rare surviving example of a suburban villa. It was designed in the fashionable Greek Revival style, probably by Richard Lane, a prominent local architect.

The Manchester Historic Buildings Trust was established in 1998 with the primary aim of saving Elizabeth Gaskell’s House. The House opened to the public in October 2014 with support and funding from The Bowland Charitable Trust, Cross Street Chapel, English Heritage, The Foyle Foundation, The Gaskell Society, J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust, Heritage Lottery Fund, Manchester City Council, Oglesby Charitable Trust, The Pilgrim Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, and The Wolfson Foundation.

Contact and Visiting Details

Opening times: Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday 11.00am-4.30pm (last admission 4pm) Ticket prices: £5 Concessions £4 Tickets valid for re-entry for 12 months

84 Plymouth grove, Manchester, M13 9LW
Twitter: @GaskellsHouse
Facebook: Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

Tours on other days by special arrangement – £10 per person (includes tour, tea/coffee and cake)

The House is also available for weddings and room hire.

For further press enquires, images and interviews, please contact Sally Jastrzebski-Lloyd on 0161 273 2215

I'm afraid we must do some shopping

Elizabeth Gaskell 1863