Historic Houses has two outstanding properties in the Greater Manchester area which are open for visitors throughout the year, Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and Bramall Hall.
Hence on a recent visit to Manchester during the Christmas holiday period, we were able spend an enjoyable day visiting both properties.
We started at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, a small Victorian middle-class property just one mile south-west of the city centre, before driving eight miles south, and travelling back three hundred years in history, to Bramall Hall, a large Tudor manor house.
Both properties have parking nearby, free on-street for the former and in an inexpensive pay-and-display car park for the latter.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
The author Elizabeth Gaskell was born in 1810 in Chelsea, but her prolific writing years from 1850 until her death in 1865, were spent at this house in Plymouth Grove. It was here that she wrote her best known novels Cranford and North and South.
The house is now a museum celebrating her life and that of her husband, William Gaskell, a Unitarian Minister who remained in the house until his death in 1884. It also provides an interesting insight into Victorian life.
All of the furniture and other effects were sold off when Elizabeth and William’s daughter Meta died in 1913, but over the last ten years the house has been faithfully restored in the style of Elizabeth Gaskell’s time.
We started our tour in the Morning Room by the entrance, where a short video provides useful background. Elizabeth’s wedding veil is on display as are pictures of the family.
To the right of the entrance is William Gaskell’s Office, with his portrait overlooking his desk and book collection. This leads into the Drawing Room, where a picture of Elizabeth hangs alongside that of one of her close friends, Charlotte Brontë.
Next door is the Dining Room with the main table set out with fine porcelain. It was in this room at a small table that Elizabeth wrote most of her novels and received her friends, including in addition to Charlotte Brontë, also Charles Dickens, John Ruskin and Sir Charles Hallé . A large silver plate dated 1853 commemorates 25 years of ministerial service by William Gaskell at the Unitarian Chapel.
Upstairs there is a small exhibition relating to Cranford and a restored Bedroom containing a fluted four poster bed made by Gillows of Lancaster, as was the original bed in that room.
We finished our house tour in the Old Kitchen and Servant’s Hall in the basement. This is now a pleasant café with tea and coffee served in delicate china cups along with a selection of cakes.
There is a small garden, much reduced in size from the Gaskill’s time and obviously not at its best at time of year when we visited.
From whatever direction you approach Bramall Hall, it is quite magnificent in appearance. We entered from the courtyard where a decorated Christmas tree was on display and carols were being played by a local charity.
All very atmospheric, as was our tour of the Hall itself where various Christmas decorations added to the splendour of the rooms and their furnishings.
Almost all the rooms in the Hall can be viewed on the ground floor, the first floor and the servant’s quarters on the second floor. We spent over an hour on our tour, guided in part by a useful leaflet given on entry pointing out the ‘Top Ten Must See Objects‘.
The ground floor tour included the Great Hall, the Lesser Hall, the Chapel, the Banqueting Room and the Dining Room, the latter visited on descending from the higher floors and just before exiting.
The Victorian Kitchens are directly next to the Dining Room, so at least food would be served hot.
Two fascinating features on the first floor were the intricate plaster ceiling in the Withdrawing Room (see picture above), dating back to the 1500s, and the haunting Tudor wall paintings in the Solar Room.
We found it quite sobering on our tour to note the striking difference between the opulence of the Paradise Bedroom and Mary Nevill’s Boudoir, and the bleakness of the Maid’s Dormitory and Housemaid’s Room on the second floor.
Similarly it was interesting to compare the fine Victorian furnishings of Elizabeth Gaskell’s house with the more bulky oak Tudor furniture in the family rooms in Bramall Hall.
There are 70 acres of parkland around the Hall, fully open to the public, with great views back to the Hall itself. Apparently the parkland is in Victorian Romantic style. Whatever the style, we found the woodland and riverside walks, with several bridges along the way, to be very enjoyable, although rather muddy at the time when we visited.
The Stables Kitchen provides refreshments.
Entry to Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is £6.50 for adults and free for children. Entry to Bramall Hall is £5 for adults, £3.75 for those 60+ and again free for children. If you take up annual membership with Historic Houses, you will get free entry to both properties, plus free entry to 300 other heritage sites around the UK.
Enter our unique code STEW05 at ‘Add discount code’ and new members will receive a £5 discount. This also applies if you wish to give annual membership as a gift.
We have reviewed several other properties under Historic Houses and see also: Historic Houses versus National Trust – Which to join? and Historic Houses – Winter Openings
POSTED 3rd FEBRUARY 2022 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.