After her sister’s sudden death in October 1908, only eight days after sending her love and sympathy to Charles Eliot Norton in Massachusetts, Meta writes:
She was a ‘creature of delight’, so beautiful and sweet and outwardly, and within extraorinarily good and noble- … for me the loss is quite beyond words. (to William Axon Dec. 3rd 1908).
The following year, Meta converted two houses on Swinton Grove into a nursing home in memory of her sister. Below is a map of the plot of land and the seven properties bought by Meta and Julia in 1900. The two houses converted into the nursing home are indicated by the blue arrow.
What appears to be in contention is in the first instance whether these houses became a nursing home or a nurse’s home and secondly whether the current NHS Gaskell House was actually built on the site of the original home. Some people believe it was.
These two points are easily answered.
It is clear from the 1911 census (below) that this was a Memorial Nursing Home for patients and not a home for nurses, although clearly nursing stafff were employed there. In fact, the details given in the census are interesting in themselves; showing a mix of male and female patients all of varying ages, some as young as 20 years and from areas as far afield as Flint in Wales. The patient’s employment details are also given. On the final page, the Matron, Annie Turner of 341, Oxford Road, signed the document.
Now, let us consider the positioning of the modern building.
I always believed that the NHS Gaskell House, now part of MRI, was built on part of the field that Elizabeth rented from 1852 to accommodate her cow, but not everyone shared that view. So, a few weeks ago I took a walk down Swinton Grove and took some photographs of the layout.
If we compare the map with the photograph taken a few weeks ago, you can see the gateposts of number 4, Swinton Grove are still there and the pathway to the front door is just about discernible. Also, you may notice that Gaskell House is fairly close to 4, Swinton Grove, the original two houses were much further away.
Walking further down the road, to the left of NHS Gaskell House, there is a large concreted area used as a car park. The far left hand edge of NHS Gaskell House can just be seen behind the blue parked car in the photograph below.
I always believed this was the site of the old nursing home; the terraced houses on the left of the photograph were built later in the 19th century on another vacant field the corner of which can be seen on the map. My theory was corroborated when I found a photograph (below) which actually shows the new NHS Gaskell House, known originally as ‘The Annexe’, connected to the old semi-detached building behind it by a covered passageway. Some evidence of this passageway can still be found in the car park. The scaffolding on the old building would indicate that it is either being renovated or demolished. Sadly it was the latter. I wonder if this is the only photograph of Meta’s gift in memory of her beloved sister that we will ever find.
Researched and Written by Diane Duffy, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House