Birth of Mrs Gaskell: September 29th, 1810

By Cavendish, Richard | History Today, September 2010 | Go to article overview
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Birth of Mrs Gaskell: September 29th, 1810


Cavendish, Richard, History Today


A blue plaque at 93 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, which in 1810 was still a village on London's outskirts, marks the birthplace of a writer whose work is admired not only for its literary qualities, but as social history. Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson was born a Unitarian and was closely connected with Unitarianism all her life. Elizabeth was her mother's name, Cleghorn the name of a family friend.

The baby's father, William Stevenson, a Treasury official, had contributed articles to magazines and written essays for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Her mother, Elizabeth Holland, from a prominent Unitarian family in Cheshire, died in October 1811. Despite his mastery of useful knowledge, her husband could not cope with a one-year-old child and the baby was sent to Knutsford in Cheshire to her mother's older sister, Aunt Lumb. Knutsford would be the model for Cranford in her best-known novel.

Hannah Lumb was separated from her husband, who had gone insane, and lived with her disabled daughter, Marianne, in what is now Gaskell Avenue in Knutsford. Marianne died in 1812. Elizabeth would later call Aunt Lumb 'my more than mother ... my best friend' Other members of the family lived close by, but her own daughters later thought Elizabeth's childhood had been lonely.

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Elizabeth's father married again, but Elizabeth and her stepmother did not get on and she recalled that the few visits she paid them in Chelsea made her 'very, very unhappy'.

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