Rebecca Metcalfe

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House: A Hands-On Museum Experience

If you follow the Literature page here at Ellipsis, you may remember my article about Elizabeth Gaskell, the Victorian author I’d been reading a lot of and really enjoying her work. I found everything I read to be a fascinating exploration of all sorts of issues as well as beautifully written and highly enjoyable. So, I decided to visit her house in Manchester, which has been turned into a museum.

The house is located on Plymouth Grove, not far from Manchester Oxford Road train station. It’s a impressive-looking house, and the inside is done up as it would have been when the Gaskell family lived there: recreated using a mixture of items they actually owned or period items that match what historians know was in the house at the time. Currently only the downstairs rooms are open to the public, but the Elizabeth Gaskell Society are currently working on getting some of the bedrooms upstairs available.

Among the rooms currently open are the music room, the study/library, the parlour and the dining rooms. Each room contains information about the room, what it was used for and significant things that took place there. There are also members of staff on hand, all of whom are very friendly and helpful, able to give both factual information and anecdotes about Gaskell’s life in the house which really add to the experience of being in the place she and her family once lived.

It’s a very hands-on museum. In the study, for example, you are able to sit at Mr Gaskell’s desk, and take the antique books from off the shelves and look through them, provided you are careful and put them back in the right place. This was something I hadn’t experienced before in a museum and it was rather surreal at first yet, like hearing the anecdotes, it gave an insight into Elizabeth Gaskell’s life that you couldn’t get from being behind a barrier. You aren’t simply viewing pieces of her life, you’re exploring it and getting to know it.

The museum is open 3 days a week and a student ticket is £4 and lasts for a year. If anyone is interested in Elizabeth Gaskell, or the Victorian era in general, or simply happens to be in need of something to do in Manchester for an hour or so then this museum is definitely worth a visit.

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