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Elizabeth Gaskell

Lacock Abbey, CheshireThe enormous popularity of the BBC's production of Cranford, coupled with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth Gaskell (nee Stevenson), and the 25th birthday of the Gaskell Society, all help to contribute to the surge in popularity that she is currently enjoying. Elizabeth Gaskell grew up in Knutsford, Cheshire with her adored Aunt Lumb after the untimely death of her mother. Devotees of her novels could either visit Knutsford to see where she lived and got the inspiration for her characters and novels or Lacock, where the Cranford series was filmed.

What could our book club do in Lacock?

  • Wander through the village and you will recognise such sights as Miss Matty's cottage and the Tithe Barn, where the survivors of the Cranford train crash were taken.
  • Stop for a drink at The Red Lion, which became the draper's shop in Cranford.
  • Enjoy lunch at The Sign of the Angel, which featured as Cranford's village pub, The Hearts of Oak, in the television series.
  • Visit Lacock Abbey, which was built on the site of an Augustinian nunnery and has been added to in various styles over the years. You may recognise the spectacular cloisters from the Harry Potter films. Visit the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography and view the very first negative ever produced by a camera.

Anything else of interest in the Lacock area?

  • A short drive away is the Georgian city of Bath. Why not visit the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, The Fashion Museum or the Jane Austen Centre? Alternatively take the Hop On Hop Off bus, either through the city or along the surrounding hilltops on the Skyline Tour.
  • Westonbirt Arboretum has one of the finest collections of trees and shrubs in Europe set in 600 acres of beautiful rolling Cotswold countryside.
  • Bradford on Avon with its 14th-century Tithe Barn, Saxon Church and Norman bridge is definitely worth a visit and when you've finished sightseeeing, the little winding lanes are full of craft and antique shops and charming cafes and restaurants.
  • Corsham Court, privately owned by the Methuen family, has a collection of Chippendale furniture, Adam's mirrors and impressive artworks including family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The gardens were landscaped by Capability Brown and now include a 350 acre deer park and 17 acres of formal gardens surrounding the house.

What could our book club do in Knutsford?

  • Enjoy a guided walking tour of Knutsford and see the house where Elizabeth lived with Mrs Lumb, the shop that became the inspiration for Johnson's in Cranford, The Royal George, which featured in several of her novels and many other interesting sights.
  • Visit the St John's Parish Church, where Elizabeth married Reverend William Gaskell.
  • Visit Gaskell Tower, built in her honour in 1907 by a local glove-maker and inscribed with the titles of her novels.
  • Just out of town is the nonconfirmist Brook Street Chapel, where Elizabeth Gaskell is buried, along with her husband and two daughters.
  • The 18th-century Tabley House is the only Palladian country house in Cheshire. It boasts a splendid collection of art including works by Joshua Reynolds and Turner and furniture by Gillow and Chippendale. You can also visit the 17th-century St Peter's Chapel built on an island in the mere call The Moat - a favourite picnic spot with the young Elizabeth.

Anything else of interest in the Knutsford area?

  • Visit Plymouth Grove in Manchester, which was the Gaskells' marital home and has just re-opened after a facelift, thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, and now offers talks, displays, a bookshop and afternoon teas. Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte were visitors here.
  • You could easily spend a whole day at Tatton Park visiting the neo-classical mansion, the Tudor Old Hall, the 2,000 acres of landscaped deer park and a traditional breeds farm.
  • Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Estate are owned by the National Trust. A visit to the cotton mill powered by Europe's most powerful working waterwheel is a fascinating experience. Demonstrators show how raw cotton was processed into cloth and you can tour the Apprentice house, which housed the pauper children who worked in the mill.
  • The Imperial War Museum North, located in Manchester Quays in a stunning modern building, features displays and special exhibitions on various wars and battles throughout the ages.

Recommended reading for your book club

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories by Jenny Uglow

Recommended viewing for your book club

North and South (2004)
Starring Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret Hale, Richard Armitage as John Thornton and Sinead Cusack as Hannah Thornton.

Cranford (2007)
Starring Eileen Atkins as Deborah Jenkins, Judi Dench as Matty Jenkins, Francesca Annis as Lady Ludlow, Imelda Staunton as Miss Pole and Julia McKenzie as Mrs Forrester.

Book Club Tours look forward to welcoming you to either Knutsford or Lacock on your Elizabeth Gaskell tour.

Book Club Tours LLP, 33 Broad Lane, Hampton, Middlesex TW12 3AL • Tel: 020 8979 2285