Nov 8, 2011

A Literary Tour of the North West

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been visiting several literary places in and around my current city of residence. Most of them are places I kept meaning to go to for the past year or so, but somehow or other I kept putting it off. I thought I’d share a few pictures from these visits with you.

First of all, a couple of weeks ago fellow bloggers Iris and Amy came to stay with me for a few days – and could there be a better excuse to go to some of these places than having bookish friends come visit? One of the places we went to was Chetham’s Library, which dates back to 1653 and is the oldest public library in the English speaking world. The library is also famous for being a regular meeting place for Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels; a sign marks the table where the two used to sit and work. Chetham’s Library is certainly a must see for history lovers, as well as for anyone interested in libraries:

We also went to The Pankhurst Centre, the former house of Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela Pankhurst (the latter is often left out, but after reading Rebel Girls I have to include her) and “the birthplace of the suffragette movement”. The centre houses a small but informative museum, as well as an area that recreates the Pankhursts’ parlour. Stepping into it really made their history come to life for me. Also, our visit was very appropriate, since Amy, Iris and I are hosting The Year of Feminist Classics together this year – if only our fourth knight Emily Jane could have joined us too!

Another place I visited (sadly sans Amy and Iris) was Knutsford, a Cheshire village sometimes referred to as “the real Cranford”. This was the place where Elizabeth Gaskell spent part of her life, where she died while writing Wives and Daughters, and where’s she’s buried alongside her husband William. Furthermore, Knutsford was the inspiration for Cranford, and even today it’s easy to imagine Miss Matty and Miss Deborah walking down the street. Here are a few glimpses of the village:

The building now houses a bookshop, which seemed only appropriate.

Tatton Hall and Park, also visited by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Finally, this past weekend I went to visit Elizabeth Gaskell’s House on Plymouth Grove, her Manchester residence and the place where writers such as Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens visited her. After several decades of neglect, the house was acquired by the charitable trust that now manages it in 2004, and for the time being it’s only open to the public a few times a year. Its past misfortunes include being rejected when offered to the city council for not being “of sufficient historical interest” (this was in the 1970’s apparently, and is really quite revealing of how a novelist’s reputation changes over time), and at one point being painted bright pink.

The trust’s goal is to have it be permanently open – not exactly as a museum, as not enough of the Gaskells’ furniture and belongings remain to make that possible, but as a cultural, educational and public space that is open and usable but nevertheless recreates what the place looked like during Elizabeth Gaskell’s lifetime. Of course, before any of this is possible a lot of expensive restoration work is necessary. The house looks quite derelict at the moment, particularly the upper floors, but it was nonetheless very interesting to see it in its current state. It was a reminder of what could have been permanently lost if not for the recent efforts to save it; and also a very different experience than visiting the Brontë Parsonage, for example, which has a clear museum/shrine feel to it. Even in its current state, this house seems much more human and liveable, which – probably not coincidentally – really fits what we know of Elizabeth Gaskell. Here are a few pictures:

The used bookshop on the ground floor.

Tea and cake at the Gaskell’s.

Clocktower down the road from the house.

Last but not least, my purchases from the used bookshop. I really shouldn’t have, but they were all books I wanted, they were incredibly cheap, and all proceeds go towards the house’s restoration. How could I say no?


  1. You have definitely found some fabulous places to visit. I haven't been to any of these and I live here permanently. I loved seeing all the pictures - thank you for sharing.

  2. Amazing places to visit and all new to me! I must tell my father about Chetham's Library as he is a die-hard Marxist!

  3. Vivienne: There are a million places back home I could say the same about. I guess being abroad makes me less likely to put off seeing things indefinitely!

    Sakura: He'll love Chetham's, then!

  4. Lots of beautiful photos! Good that you have such an extensive blog post to remember them by too.

  5. Wonderful photos! It's feels like I've just had a literary pilgrimage of my own... thanks.

  6. You take the most wonderful pictures, and I love how you always include a picture of the refreshments! :--)

  7. Wonderful pictures! I am so jealous of your literary wanderings, but the photos almost make me feel like I was there with you! :D

  8. Oh my, that library is just beyond beautiful, and I would have loved the chance to go and check it out for myself. Really, all your photos were beautiful and Steph said, it's very nice to live vicariously through you!

  9. Marvelous! It looks like you all had a lovely and bookish time. I've told Sam that I'll quit bothering him about having more babies as long as I can go on a literary tour of England in before I'm 40 (I'm 31 now). Adding your sites to my list of must sees!

  10. Beautiful post and beautiful pictures, Ana! I love the colours of autumn :) It is sad that Elizabeth Gaskell's house was rejected by the city council. We can only imagine what kind of things were permanently lost because of the way the house has been neglected. Love the fact that you got Georgette Heyer's 'Arabella' :)

  11. I'm in awe of all the brains in one room when you, Amy, and Iris were together!

  12. Pretty pretty pictures! So glad you got to the Gaskell house. Also, it was great to visit the first places with you :)

  13. Thank you for sharing these lovely pictures! I am curious about the Dorothy Canfield book. I don't know much about her, but I loved her children's book, Understood Betsy, and I have read a bit about her intriguing ideas on education.

  14. *sigh* Your pics always make me want to return to England. Lovely, as always...thanks for sharing!

  15. Wow, great pics! I'd love to visit if given the chance! And it's so great that you got to meet up with Iris and Amy! :)

  16. Oh my goodness, what an incredible post. What freakin' incredible pictures!!! You know what--when Rich and I *finally* make our dream trip, we're staying for 3 months! :P There are just so many amazing places to see...and it goes without saying that I could not imagine having more fun than seeing it with you! Of course, I'd better nix my Victorian, etc. fear first so I have more of an idea what all the amazing stuff I'm seeing is really all about. Seriously, I sooooo need to learn more about European history all-around. Anyway, I so glad you're finally being able to make the time to do some of the things you've been wanting to do! :D

  17. The photos are wonderful. Thanks for sharing! I'm suddenly reminded of how long it's been since I read Wives and Daughters. Must pick up Cranford. I simply must!

  18. Beautiful photos! And now I'm tempted to do the same tour (ashamed to say I haven't been to any of those places, yet)

  19. You're making my mouth water! My plan is to do Haworth and Oxford next year, but a Gaskell tour is also on the list, if I can. Also want to go to Scotland again. So many places, so little time!

  20. What interesting, and beautiful places you've been visiting, none of which I've been to. Will have to make a note of them.

  21. I've been to Knutsford many times because I grew up in Cheshire and my parents still live there. When I go to visit them, it's a favourite place to go out for lunch and a wander round! I like all the half-timbered buildings there. It looks lovely and autumnal in your photos. Tatton Park is also nice - I used to visit but haven't been for years. I should go back there some time!

  22. Wow, looks like quite a trip. =) I wasn't aware of your feminist classics website... I'll be interested to see what comes of those conversations. =)

  23. Aw, wish I could have been there with you all too! Looks like you had a great time :)

  24. That looks amazing! I love the pictures of the library and the typewriter. :)

  25. These are all gorgeous photos and look like fascinating places, none of which I've ever been to. I love visiting places that influenced literature. Knutsford in particular just exudes charm from your pictures.

  26. This post (especially your gorgeous pictures) has me salivating. Seriously. What an amazing group of places to see. Though I admit I'm a bit sad not to see pictures of you with Iris and Amy.

  27. Loved reading this post! So many gorgeous pictures and such fun places to visit!

  28. Yvann: Glad you enjoyed them! It will be fun to look back one day in the future I imagine :)

    JoAnn: You're welcome!

    Jill: I can't help it - the refreshments often look so nice :P And thank you!

    Steph: I'm glad I was able to provide a vicarious experience :D

    Zibilee: I so wish you could have joined us!

    Amanda: Plenty of time, then! I know the trip is a much bigger investment for those of you across the pond, but I've little doubt you'd find it worth it.

    Vishy: Yes, isn't it sad? But I'm glad it was at least saved before everything was lost. I couldn't resist that Heyer edition - it looks so delightfully old fashioned, and it cost only 50p!

    Kathy: Aw, you're too nice!

    Amy: I wish you could have come to the Gaskell house too, but yes, it was great that we got to see the library and the Pankhurst centre together :) Thanks again for being such a lovely guest!

    Steph: I'm very curious about it as well - I hope to read it soon, and I'll of course let you all know what I thought!

    Jill: You're most welcome!

    Melody: It was so much fun!

    Debi: And even 3 months might not be enough ;)

    Amy: And I still haven't read Wives and Daughters, OR Mary Barton! Must change that asap.

    Tracy: It's never too late!

    Alex: If things go well job wise we could meet up when you go to Haworth! It's less than an hour from me.

    Jessica: I hope you enjoy visiting them as much as I did :)

    Sarah: What a lovely place to grow up! I really link what I've seen of Cheshire.

    Cam: We're hoping to extend it for another year - I hope you'll consider joining us!

    Gricel: Glad you enjoyed it :)

    Emily Jane: We really did!

    Heidenkind: I love seeing personal objects like that - they make writers and historical figures seem so much more alive.

    Meghan: It's a really beautiful village! Do visit if you have the chance :)

    Trish: You know I'm photo shy :P But there's one over at Amy's blog!

    Marg: Very glad you liked it!

  29. Hi Ana, it's been a while since my last visit! This post took my breath away. A library that dates back to 1653? Awesome! All the pictures are awesome. And that cake and tea make me hungry all over again. I love how the sunlight is showering the table. Lovely.


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