GASKELL, Mrs Elizabeth Cleghorn (1810-1865)
Plaque erected in 1913 by London County Council at 93 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London, SW10 0DQ, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Mrs GASKELL (1810-1865) Novelist Born Here
The writer Elizabeth Gaskell is best remembered for her novels Cranford (1851–3) and North and South (1854–5), and for her biography of her friend Charlotte Brontë.
FROM CHELSEA TO CHESHIRE
Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson was born at 93 Cheyne Walk on 29 September 1810. The house (originally 1 Belle Vue and later 12 Lindsey Row) was the home of her parents from 1809 until early 1811, when they moved around the corner to 3 Beaufort Row (later 7 Beaufort Street and since demolished).
In October 1811, when young Elizabeth was barely a year old, Mrs Stevenson died, and the child was taken to live with her maternal aunt, Hannah Lumb, in Knutsford, the Cheshire town later immortalised as Cranford in Gaskell’s novel (1851–3) of that name. Although she returned to Chelsea to nurse her dying father in 1828–9, she later said – in the voice of one of her novel’s narrators – ‘I had vibrated all my life between Drumble [Manchester] and Cranford’.
A bronze plaque was erected at number 93 in 1913 after Gaskell’s biographer, Mrs Ellis H Chadwick, allayed fears that the house had been rebuilt in the 19th century; she showed that it did, in fact, date from 1777.
Elizabeth’s stories began to appear in 1847, 15 years after her marriage to the Revd William Gaskell. Her first novel, Mary Barton (1848), with its depiction of the problems of industrial Manchester, brought its author instant fame. In the novel’s preface, she wrote:
I had always felt a deep sympathy with the care-worn men, who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives in strange alternations between work and want.
Among her admirers was Charles Dickens, who invited her to contribute to his magazine Household Words. Cranford subsequently appeared within its pages between 1851 and 1853. Her following publications included Ruth (1853), a second Manchester novel, North and South (1854–5), and a biography (1856–7) of Charlotte Brontë, with whom she maintained a close friendship after their meeting in the Lake District in 1850. Elizabeth’s last novel, Wives and Daughters, was left unfinished at the time of her death in 1865.