84 Plymouth Grove

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84 Plymouth Grove
84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester.jpg
The modern 84 Plymouth Grove, immediately before restoration work began
Former names 42 Plymouth Grove
Alternative names Gaskell House
General information
Architectural style Neoclassical
Location Manchester, England
Coordinates 53°27′48″N 2°13′11″W / 53.46333°N 2.21972°W / 53.46333; -2.21972
Completed circa 1838
Owner Manchester Historic Buildings Trust
Design and construction
Architect Richard Lane

84 Plymouth Grove is a Grade II* listed neoclassical villa in Manchester, England,[1] which was the residence of William and Elizabeth Gaskell from 1850 till their deaths in 1884 and 1865 respectively. The Gaskell household continued to occupy the villa after the deaths of Elizabeth and William. The death of Elizabeth Gaskell's daughter, Margaret Emily "Meta" Gaskell, in 1913, brought to an end the Gaskells' residence there.

The house, architecturally, is unique in Manchester, as many other buildings from the time period have since been knocked down for various reasons. The house itself was granted listed building status due to its association with the Gaskells, which granted it protection from demolition, however, 84 Plymouth Grove slowly descended into a state of disrepair due to neglect.

Currently, the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust is part way through a restoration project, which will see 84 Plymouth Grove returned to its state as the Gaskells left it. The Manchester Historic Buildings Trust by 2011 had finished the exterior, which included structural repairs and removing the pink paint that had coated the house for various years. However, in May 2011 their project was marred by the theft of the lead roof, which caused "extensive damage" according to the BBC.[2]


84 Plymouth Grove was designed in the Greek Revival style, probably by architect Richard Lane, circa 1838, as part of a wider development of the area, then on the outskirts of the city. The villa housed grand drawing and dining rooms, seven bedrooms and even a coach house wing.[3] The lavish house was built in response to the newly emerging middle class citizens of Manchester. The city, which had rapidly expanded due to the industrial revolution, held various degrees of housing, ranging from, poverty-ridden slum housing to the new era of luxurious housing such as 84 Plymouth Road.

The design of the building is unique; the house contains twenty rooms on three floors with a rectangular front porch containing four columns carved with a lotus leaf shape, reminiscent of the Tower of the Winds in Athens.[1][4] Despite the house's façade having a pink coat for years, earning it the nickname 'The Pink House',[5] during the times of Elizabeth Gaskell the walls were described as a "stone-colour".[6]

The Gaskells' residence[edit]

Elizabeth Gaskell, in portrait of 1851 by George Richmond

Elizabeth and William, along with their children, Marrianne, Margaret Emily "Meta", Florence and Julia, moved into the house (then numbered 42 Plymouth Grove) in June 1850, after the publication of Elizabeth's first novel, Mary Barton.[7] However, they had lived in Manchester for some time previously as William Gaskell's job of assistant Minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, required the family to move from Knutsford, in neighbouring Cheshire.[8] The family had stayed at two different locations in Manchester, both of which have now been demolished.[8]

84 Plymouth Grove's decadence concerned Gaskell, who, despite calling the house "a beauty", was concerned about residing in such an expensive house (the rent was £150 per annum) while others lived in poverty.[9] Despite Elizabeth's concerns, the Gaskells were not frugal, with the twenty room house costing half of William's salary in rent.[4] Elizabeth, feeling guilty, justified it by stating, "It is [William] who is to decide on all these things".[10] Until the birth of their children they required only one servant, Betsy, however, at Plymouth Grove much more domestic staff were employed, including a cook, several maids, a handyman for outdoor work, as well as a washerwoman and a seamstress.[10] Elizabeth trained her staff and looked after their welfare whilst they were employed at the house.[10]

Charlotte Brontë, one of the many guests who stayed at 84 Plymouth Grove on various occasions

Charlotte Brontë, who visited the house three times between 1851 and 1854, described it as "a large, cheerful, airy house, quite out of Manchester smoke".[7] The "Manchester smoke", as Brontë described it, was smog generated from the hundreds of textile factories and cotton mills situated within the inner city, in particular the Ancoats area. In 1853, coinciding with the times of Brontë's visits, there were 108 mills in Manchester; the peak number of mills within Manchester.[11] On one occasion, the meek Brontë even hid behind the curtains in Gaskells' drawing room as she was too shy to meet the other guests.[12]

Barbara Brill, biographer of William Gaskell, stated that "Plymouth Grove could be likened to the activities of a beehive",[10] due to the Gaskells entertaining many guests whilst living at the house. Besides Brontë, visitors to the house during Elizabeth Gaskell's lifetime included Charles Dickens, who, on one occasion in 1852, made an impromptu visit to the house, along with his wife at 10am, much to the dismay of Elizabeth, who mentioned it to be "far too early".[4] John Ruskin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, American writer Charles Eliot Norton and conductor Charles Hallé also visited Elizabeth Gaskell at Plymouth Grove.[4] Hallé visited the house often, teaching Meta Gaskell how to play the piano.[8]

Gaskell lived at Plymouth Grove with her family until her death 15 years later, in 1865, and all of her later books were written there, including some of her most famous works, such as Cranford and North and South. Gaskell died in Alton, Hampshire, in a house she had just secretly purchased, without informing William.[13] She had planned to entice William into leaving Manchester and retiring there, but she collapsed suddenly in the arms of Meta, and died on 12 November 1865.[13] Her husband, William Gaskell, a Unitarian minister and educationalist, survived Elizabeth by nearly two decades, dying in 1884 of bronchitis.[14] Upon his death, his two surviving unmarried daughters, Meta and Julia, lived in the house (his two other daughters, Marriane and Florence, had both married, though Florence died 3 years prior to William's death).[8] The two sisters continued living at Plymouth Grove and both were involved in various charitable causes throughout their lives. Julia, despite being the youngest, died before Meta, in October 1908, leaving Meta Gaskell alone at 84 Plymouth Grove.[8]

Meta Gaskell's death[edit]

The house, pictured in 1913, the year that the Gaskells' occupancy ended
Suggestion That Manchester Make It a Literary Museum

LONDON, Jan. 28.—A suggestion made by Derwent Simpson, and supported by The Manchester Guardian, is that the home of the Gaskell family in Plymouth Grove, Manchester, should be bought by the Manchester Corporation and be made a literary museum.[15]
— 8 February 1914, The New York Times

In 1913 Meta Gaskell, the last of the Gaskells residing at Plymouth Grove, died, ending the family's 63 year occupancy of the villa.[7] Meta was not, however, the last living Gaskell daughter, Marrianne Gaskell, the eldest child, was still alive, and would live till 1920.[8] Marrianne, married and mother to three children, did not live in Plymouth Grove, so Meta's death marked the end of the Gaskells in Plymouth Grove. Many suggested that the house become a public museum dedicated to Gaskell and her literary works, with the idea being supported by The Manchester Guardian.

The New York Times stated that the conversion to a museum could be achieved at "small expense", as it could sell some of the land belonging to the house for development.[15] Despite the suggestion, the idea was rejected by the local authority, with The Manchester Guardian quoting them as stating, "The house belonged to one of the ugliest periods of architecture and was of no value beyond its association with the Gaskell family."[4] Hopes of turning 84 Plymouth Grove into a museum were soon extinguished, and the house was simply left there. The University of Manchester purchased the building in 1969, converting it for use by the International Society. The university relinquished the building in 2000.

Current condition[edit]

The building was purchased in 2004 by the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust, who plan a £2.5m restoration of the building, with the aim of allowing it to be opened to the public. A modern plaque states (inaccurately) "Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell 1810–1865 novelist and authoress of Mary Barton Cranford and many other works lived here 1849–1865".[16] In 2006, the house was in a very poor state of repair with severe structural problems,[4] and was listed on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register. Restoration work began in September 2009.[17] The house stands within a five-minute walk of Victoria Baths, another Victorian-era landmark requiring substantial restoration.

A new roof was placed on the house in 2010. Lead was used at the insistence of English Heritage. However, in 2011, much of the lead was stolen, and £250,000 worth of damage was caused in the process.[18]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Images of England: 84 Plymouth Grove, Chorlton-On-Medlock
  2. ^ "Elizabeth Gaskell's house damaged after lead theft". BBC News. 11 May 2011. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2011. 
  3. ^ Tapp, Blaise (1 June 2004). "Life of fame for Gaskell house". Manchester Evening News (M.E.N. Media). Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "An ending Dickens would have liked". The Independent (London). 26 March 2006. 
  5. ^ Qureshi, Yakub (7 January 2010). "Pink house to fade to grey". North East Manchester Advertiser (M.E.N. Media). Retrieved 5 February 2010. 
  6. ^ "The House". The Gaskells' House. Archived from the original on 20 January 2010. Retrieved 5 February 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c Uglow, J (1993). Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-20359-0. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Elizabeth Gaskell and family". The Gaskells' House. Retrieved 5 February 2010. 
  9. ^ Letter to Eliza Fox (April 1850) in Chapple, J A V; Pollard, A, eds. (1997). The Letters of Mrs Gaskell. Mandolin. ISBN 1-901341-03-8. 
  10. ^ a b c d Brill (1984), pp 81–83.
  11. ^ McNeil, Robina; Michael Nevell (2000). A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Greater Manchester. Association for Industrial Archaeology. ISBN 0-9528930-3-7. 
  12. ^ Adams, Stephen (15 April 2009). "Cranford comes to rescue of Elizabeth Gaskell's house". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  13. ^ a b Rusell Jenkins (5 December 2008). "I won't see out the year, Elizabeth Gaskell told dear friend, months before she died". The Times (London). Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  14. ^ Brill (1984), pp 117–118.
  15. ^ a b "Would Buy Gaskell Home". The New York Times. 8 February 1914. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  16. ^ The Gaskell House: plaque
  17. ^ http://www.elizabethgaskellhouse.org
  18. ^ "Elizabeth Gaskell's house damaged after lead theft". BBC News. 11 May 2011. 


Brill, Barbara (1984). William Gaskell, 1805–1884: A Portrait. Manchester Literary and Philosophical Publications. ISBN 0-902428-05-5. 

External links[edit]