Introducing the new Brontë Room
16th September 2022
A new permanent exhibition has opened at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester that will explore Elizabeth’s role in Victorian society in a way that has never previously been done. As well as being an acclaimed author, Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–1865) was a radical changemaker of her time and one connected with other notable female reformers, as the exhibition in the new Brontë Room reveals.
The exhibition has been made possible by the generosity of the AIM Biffa Award History Makers grant, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund, and has unlocked the wider world of Elizabeth Gaskell and her daughters Marianne, Margaret, Florence and Julia, making it an exciting addition to the visitor experience. Beyond the domestic life of pretty sitting rooms, elegant formal rooms and the quintessentially English garden, Elizabeth didn’t just write about poverty, class divide and inequality in novels such as North and South, she was an active citizen who wanted to see change.
The exhibition will explore how Elizabeth and her daughters played a role within the foundations of the trade union movement, supported soup kitchens and had a strongly philanthropic outlook. It will also illuminate how closely associated Elizabeth was with the leading reformers, writers and artists of the time, who held her in high esteem, for example, her great friend Charlotte Brontë described her as “kind, clever, animated and unaffected.”
Amongst the circle of women that Elizabeth and her daughters would meet, invite to her home and correspond with were Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Florence Nightingale, Christabel Pankhurst, Beatrix Potter and Annie Swynnerton. The interactions the women shared are highlighted in a photo album that has been created for the exhibition and interactive screens will enable visitors to read some of the correspondence between Elizabeth and her circle of friends, including Charles Dickens.
A newly commissioned film, exploring the relationship between Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, and a dressing up area are all part of the exhibition space, which fills what is known as the Brontë Room (named after Charlotte Brontë who stayed at the house on several occasions and would have likely slept in this room). There is also fun to be had with an interactive dressing table, a centre piece of the display. Through touch and sound, you are transported to a time of great excitement as Elizabeth prepares to attend the Art Treasures Exhibition held in Manchester in 1857; still recognised as the largest art exhibition ever held in the UK and possibly the world.
Sally Jastrzebski-Lloyd, House Manager at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, says, “We are so thankful to the AIM Biffa Award History Makers grant, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund, for supporting our vision for this exhibition. As well as extending perceptions of Elizabeth and exploring different aspects of her life, it helps to paint a fascinating picture of Victorian life – of women who shared not just passions in their work, but passions for change and improvements to the world around them. Elizabeth Gaskell was very much a woman ahead of her time, which is perhaps why her novels have held such relevance to generations of readers ever since.”
Rachel Maidment, Biffa Award Grants Manager, says, “It is a privilege to be able to support this project telling the story of Elizabeth Gaskell, a hugely influential Victorian woman, and her daughters in new and exciting ways. Biffa Award is extremely proud to have funded the AIM History Makers programme which recognises some of our lesser-known, but hugely important and influential historical figures. It is so important that stories like these are told and remembered by future generations.”
The funding has also enabled additional interpretation to be added to the Morning Room and for some of the House’s treasured collection of books to be better displayed; these include a book of John Keats poetry given to Elizabeth by her husband, William, which is engraved ‘with love from Mr G’.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is open every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 11:00am to 4:30pm. Entry is £6.50 (£7.00 from 1 November 2022) for adults and free for children under 16, when accompanied by an adult. Tickets are valid for 12 months from purchase and can be pre-booked via www.ticketsource.co.uk/elizabeth-gaskell-house. For further information on Elizabeth Gaskell’s House visit www.elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk