I was invited on a zoom tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in exchange for a review. All images and opinions are my own.
In just 12 short months, Covid-19 has changed the way we live in so many ways. Previously I’d been entirely unable to work from home, I was fairly allergic to Zoom calls and wearing a mask was only something bank robbers ever considered.
Whilst it has been the most horrific year in living memory, the rise in the popularity of Zoom has meant that we’ve been able to explore places and do things we may never have thought of doing before.
One evening last week I took a virtual tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, and because we could Zoom in from anywhere, I was joined by people from far-flung places like New Mexico and Missouri in the USA, Australia, the Netherlands; as well as Sheffield, Sale and Stockport.
Elizabeth Gaskell was one of the UK’s most important Victorian authors. She wrote a number of novels including Mary Barton, North and South, Cranford and Ruth. In 1850, she and her husband William and surviving children moved to this beautiful villa on Plymouth Grove in Manchester. In this house she continued to write and play host to some of the most famous literary names in the Victorian age.
After Elizabeth died in 1865, the house on Plymouth Grove remained in the Gaskell family until 1913. It then stood empty for many years and fell into disrepair. The University of Manchester bought it in 1969 for use by international students; and in 2004 it was acquired by the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust for the princely sum of £1. They then raised the money needed to restore it. Exterior renovations were completed in 2011 and the house is now open to the public. Except there’s a pandemic on, so its doors are closed for now.
Thankfully the good people who run Elizabeth Gaskell’s House have taken things online and they’ve fully embraced the Zoom meeting. Over the last few months they’ve put on a busy programme of online events, ranging from book groups and readings; to recitals and online talks. I joined them last week to take a virtual tour of the house.
The tour was run by two incredibly knowledgeable volunteers; Diane Duffy, a researcher and tour guide, and volunteer, Anne. It was very well done. We all Zoomed in at 7pm and we were welcomed by Anne who asked us all to mute ourselves and turn out cameras off before we began. We were urged to use the chat function to ask any questions and there were lots of opportunities to do so.
Using a PowerPoint and a range of photos, Diane took us on an hour long tour of the ground floor of this Grade II listed house. We explored the Morning Room, William’s study, the Drawing Room and the Dining Room which was also where Elizabeth used to write her novels and letters. Diane told us all about the house and the family; with lots of anecdotes and little details about them all. I felt almost as I knew them by the end of the tour.
Whilst the house is closed to the public, they are taking to opportunity to restore Elizabeth’s bedroom. We had a quick glimpse of this, but it’s made me keen to visit in person when I can to see it in all its glory.
The online tour was a fantastic way to visit the house; especially if you don’t live in Manchester or plan to visit soon. It cost just £10 which is excellent value; the amount of information and detail we were given has made me want to delve deeper into her life and read more of her books.
The online tours are a great way to support this historic house. We are living through trying times and their income from visitors has been very much reduced. The £10 gets you an hour long tour with a very knowledgable tour guide and 10% off purchases in the online shop.
I’ve visited Elizabeth Gaskell’s House before for a craft afternoon, which was fantastic. I’d been meaning to come back and take the tour again. This has whetted my appetite to return and take the tour in person. I fully recommend these online tours, they’re a fabulous thing to do on a rainy lockdown evening.
For more information about Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and their online tours and events, visit their website.
*apologies for the not great photos which were taken of my laptop screen. The house is stunning in real life and not at all blurry.