Posts Tagged ‘Cranford’

Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. The Cranford Companion, a book by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin, the co-creators of the wildly popular series based on the Cranford books by Elizabeth Gaskell, is now available for purchase. The miniseries, produced by the BBC, aired last year in the United States on PBS.

Lushly illustrated in full color photographs, this companion book will provide fans of the two mini-series, Cranford and Return to Cranford, with all the behind the scenes stories about the production, film locations, map of Cranford, and the characters and actors who portray them. Included are points of historic interest, such as the building of the railroads, as well as information on etiquette, the fairer sex, Victorian society and more.

It is hard to describe the book when I think a short video can demonstrate all its fabulous features so much better!

I recommend The Cranford Companion highly to all Cranford and Elizabeth Gaskell fans. Purchase the book in England at this Bloomsbury site and in the U.S. at Amazon.com

Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin. Image @Manchester Literature Festival Blog*

My reviews of the series:

My post about Elizabeth Gaskell: A Short description of Her Life

*Manchester Literature Festival Blog

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Happy 200th Birthday, Elizabeth Gaskell! Although your life was cut short at 55, you still cast a bright light in our world.

Elizabeth Gaskell around the time of her marriage, 1832

“No, I tell you it’s the poor, and the poor only, as does such things for the poor. Don’t think to come over me with th’ old tale, that the rich know nothing of the trials of the poor; I say, if they don’t know, they ought to know. We’re their slaves as long as we can work…” – Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton

Since babyhood Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell nee Stevenson experienced profound sorrow and a sense of loss and displacement. Her parents, Elizabeth and William Stevenson, had eight children, but only two survived – baby Elizabeth and her older brother John. Her mother did not live to raise her, for she died a year after her daugher’s birth. Sadly, her widowed father did not feel up to taking care of his young daughter and sent Elizabeth away to live with her Aunt Lumb in Knutsford, Chesire.

Knutsford, the model for Cranford, 1863

Under this loving aunt’s care, Elizabeth experienced a happy childhood. She played with cousins in the rural town of Knutsford where lived “11 widows of respectability who kept house, besides spinsters innumerable”. In later life, Elizabeth would use Knutsford as the idealized setting for Cranford. She was to return there often to recall the rare happy memories of her early childhood.

Knutsford in 1860, before the railroad came

Elizabeth’s father continued to reject her even after his remarriage. When she was nine years old, he finally sent for her to visit him in London, but Elizabeth and her stepmother did not hit it off. In addition, her father and his new wife favored the children of their union. Although often reduced to tears by their indifference, Elizabeth did have one person she could turn to, her beloved brother John.

William Gaskel

When Elizabeth was twelve, John joined the merchant navy. She would never see him again, for he drowned six years later off the coast of India. Within six months of John’s death, her griefstricken father also died. And thus, at the tender age of eighteen, Elizabeth was alone again.

William Turner, a distant relative, took Elizabeth in to live with his family. As a Unitarian minister he influenced her religious beliefs and introduced her to charitable works. It was through William Turner’s daugher that Elizabeth met William Gaskell, whom she married in the Knutsford Parish Church on August, 1832.

Gaskell was also a Unitarian minister and a lecturer and educator. After their honeymoon, the young couple moved to industrial Manchester, where William had acquired a post as minister of the Cross Street Chapel. Gaskell was also to hold the chair of English history and literature in Manchester New College.

Manchester in 1840. Note the factory chimneys.

Elizabeth would eventually bear her husband six children, the first of whom was a stillborn daughter. Considering the losses she had already experienced in her life, the death of this little girl, born in 1833, must have grieved her deeply. Three years afterward she penned this touching poem:

On Visiting the Grave of My Stillborn Little Girl

I made a vow within my soul, O child,
When thou wert laid beside my weary heart,
With marks of Death on every tender part,
That, if in time a living infant smiled,
Winning my ear with gentle sounds of love
In sunshine of such joy, I still would save
A green rest for thy memory, O Dove!
And oft times visit thy small, nameless grave.
Thee have I not forgot, my firstborn, thou
Whose eyes ne’er opened to my wistful gaze,
Whose suff’ rings stamped with pain thy little brow;
I think of thee in these far happier days,
And thou, my child, from thy bright heaven see
How well I keep my faithful vow to thee.
– Elizabeth Gaskell’s poem for her stillborn daughter, 1836

Then three healthy girls arrived in succession: Marianne (1834), Margaret Emily (1837), and Florence Elizabeth (1842). In 1844 she gave birth to her son William. These years marked a busy and productive period in Elizabeth’s life. Both the Gaskell’s divided their time between his ministry, their social life, and charity work. In Manchester, Gaskell witnessed the dire poverty of the textile workers, which was to have a lasting effect on her writing.

Elizabeth Gaskell by George Richmond, 1851. @National Portrait Gallery, London.

Between raising children and visiting the poor, Elizabeth managed to find the time to write. Her husband supported her in this endeavor, helping her with research and editing. The year she gave birth to her daugher Margaret, Elizabeth sold her first story to Blackwoods Magazine entitled “Sketches Among the Poor.” In 1846, she gave birth to another daughter, Julia.

Factory Kids, Manchester 1836

Elizabeth’s life was a fulfilling and happy one until her nine-month old son, William, caught scarlet fever during a visit to Wales in1848, and died. The blow was too much. When a devastated Elizabeth was unable to rise out of bed, William encouraged her to concentrate on her writing and begin a novel. The result was Mary Barton, which told about the desperate poverty of those living in industrial cities like Manchester, a topic with which Elizabeth had become all too familiar during her charity work.

Illustration by Alexy Pendle from Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mary Barton brought  success to Elizabeth. She was paid £200 for the book, which was published anonymously. Charles Dickens sang its praises. Other admirers included John Ruskin, Charles Kingsley, and Thomas Carlyle. Although critics took a jaundiced view towards her championing of the poor and calls for social reform, the novel led to her writing other books, each one making her more money. From then on she published her books under her own name, Mrs. Gaskell.

Houshold Words, Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens admired Elizabeth so much that he serialised her next novel, Cranford, in his journal, Household Words (1851-1853). More novels followed in rapid succession, including Ruth (1853), North and South (1855), and Sylvia’s Lovers (1863). These books did not represent her sole literary output. Elizabeth wrote several novellas, of which Cranford was one, as well as short stories and articles for periodicals.

Gilbraltar Tower House, Carnforth. Mrs. Gaskell often wrote in the top room of the tower.

After her good friend Charlotte Bronte died, Gaskell wrote her acclaimed biography, using firsthand accounts and sources. This led her into some legal trouble, for shortly after the book’s publication a few of the people mentioned in it threatened to sue for having been represented incorrectly.

She made many other important friends, and was an avid correspondent, writing thousands of letters to friends and near strangers with the rapidity and ease of someone who, had she lived in the future, would most likely have embraced email.*

Mrs. Gaskell's letter to Dante Gabriel Rossetti about William Wordsworth, Princeton Collection

Elizabeth’s novels were enormously popular with the public, and the Gaskells lived well, traveling around Europe, hiring servants, and moving into a bigger house, Plymouth Grove, which still stands. Even with the income from her books and her popularity, Elizabeth continued to remain involved in her husband’s ministry and charity work.

Interior of Plymouth Grove, National Trust

“He is very shy, but very merry when he is well, delights in puns & punning, is very fond of children… 6 foot high, grey hair and whiskers….I do believe he does like Manchester better than any other place in the world; and his study the best place in Manchester” – Elizabeth Gaskell, in describing her husband.

While Gaskell loved her husband dearly and was faithful to him, she did meet a young man in her later life who flattered her womanly ego. On one of her trips to Italy with her daughters, she met an American, Charles Norton, who was 20 years her junior and clearly worshipped her. One cannot be surprised by his attraction, for Elizabeth was a successful, intelligent, and passionate woman. But their friendship remained platonic and they corresponded until Elizabeth’s death. Her Roman flirtation left an indelible memory in Elizabeth’s mind: “It was in those charming Roman days that my life culminated,” she later wrote to a friend. “I shall never be so happy again. I don’t think I was ever so happy before.”**

Mrs. Gaskell towards the end of her life.

Years of loss, sorrow, hard work, and success took a toll on her. Once a vibrant and lovely woman, she looked drawn and tired in later photographs. Elizabeth’s death came suddenly and unexpectedly on a visit to her cottage near Alton in Holybourne, Hampshire. Unknown to her husband, she had secretly purchased the house for their retirement.

“On Sunday November 12, 1865, she and her daughters spent a lazy morning before Elizabeth walked up the lane to church. The vicar thought she looked extremely well.

At 5pm, everyone sat in the drawing room for tea. Elizabeth was gossiping, relating a conversation she’d had with a judge when, mid-sentence, she stopped, gasped and slumped down dead from a heart attack.” – The Daily Mail Online, 2007

Manuscript of Wives and Daughters

Elizabeth had been witing her last work, Wives and Daughters, which remained unfinished. After her unexpected death, a friend wrote, “The world of English letters has lost one of its foremost authors,” a sentiment the Anthenaeum echoed: “If not the most popular, with small question, the most powerful and finished female novelist of an epoch singularly rich in female novelists.”

Burial spot for Elizabeth and William Gaskell

Elizabeth is buried at Brookstreet Chapel in Knutsford. William Gaskell survived her by two decades and never retired, serving as Minister in Cross Street and living in Plymouth Grove with two daughters until his death in 1884. He is buried beside her.

In terms of her legacy, this 1989 letter by Henry Rollin, Chairman, History of Psychiatry Group,  sums up Elizabeth Gaskell’s body of work:

But of greater importance to the medical historian are the glimpses she gives in her novels of the socioeconomic diseases of the period of which she writes. Life is cheap. Alcoholism and prostitution are rife. Cholera and typhus are commonplace. Women die in childbirth. And she reveals in harrowing detail the prevalence of opium addiction. John Barton, the father of Mary Barton in her novel of that name, is portrayed as a man so bitterly humiliated by his abject failure in all departments of his life that he degenerates into the quintessential opium addict. But even more haunting is the intense pathos of her description of the relationship between opium and the grinding poverty and near-starvation of the underprivileged. “Many a penny that would have gone little way enough in oatmeal or potatoes, bought opium to still the hungry little ones, and make them forget their uneasiness in heavy troubled sleep”, she writes of the Manchester she knew in her day-to-day work as the wife of a Unitarian minister.”

Gaskell's great great great granddaughter, Sarah Prince, lays a wreath in the Poet's Corner

In honor of the Bicentenary, Mrs. Gaskell was included in the poet’s corner in Westminster Abbey, a top honor indeed. Rest in peace, Elizabeth Gaskell, and happy, happy birthday!

Gentle Reader: This blog has joined fourteen others in celebrating the Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary Blog Tour, sponsored by Austenprose. The next blog on your tour is Mary Barton (1848) Book: Kelly’s of the Jane Austen Sequel Examiner. She will discuss Mary Barton, Gaskell’s first book.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of an unabridged edition of North and South by Naxos AudioBooks read by Clare Willie. Deadline October 7th, midnight PT


Thank you, Austenprose, for arranging this web tour!

The Gaskell Blog Tour:





  • 14.) Your Gaskell Library – a select bibliography of written resources and links to MP3′s, ebooks, audio books, other downloads and reading resources available online: Janeite Deb – Jane Austen in Vermont
  • 15) Plymouth Grove – A Visit to Elizabeth Gaskell’s home in Manchester:  Tony Grant – London Calling

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Cranford producers realized that Knutsford, the Chesire market town in which Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel is set, has become too modern to serve as a realistic background for a movie based upon the novel. Lacock to the rescue!

Pride and Prejudice 1995 required a picturesque village. The crew went to Lacock and renamed it Meryton! (Third image below)

Emma 1996 required a piano to be hoisted to the second floor of an old and narrow apartment. A house in Lacock fit the bill!

With streets that have remained essentially unchanged for centuries and with the absence of arial wires and satellite dishes, Lacock in Wiltshire has become a hot location for period films. Movies that have been filmed there and that you may recognize are: Pride and Prejudice 1995, Emma 1996, Moll Flanders, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Harry Potter, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Wolf Man, Lark Rise to Candleford, and Cranford. The pictures in this Lacock link were taken in April 2007, prior to a Cranford shoot. The jail in the middle of the road which held young Harry’s father is made of fiberglass.

One can imagine how disruptive these frequent location shoots can be for Lacock’s residents, even though they are compensated. Locals were given £100 if their houses were affected during filming, and they could make extra cash by serving as extras. Aceshowbiz (See photos above and below.)

Town residents stand to make more off Harry Potter 6, but the inconveniences will be greater. High Street and Church Street will close during filming, and the bus stop outside the George Inn will be relocated. Businesses that break closure rules will risk a fine of £1,000. (Swindon Advertiser). For the “privilege” of hosting the Harry Potter crew again, Warner Brothers will pay the village £30,000, which will be split between the Abbey owners National Trust and Lacock Parish Council. The movie-making teams will be allowed to return for four days in October to shoot scenes between 5 PM and 5 AM with Daniel Radcliffe.

When town resident Mary Little, 55, learned that part two of Cranford would be filmed in Lacock, she said: “It would be lovely to work with the cast and crew again – it was brilliant the first time around.

“Hopefully Dame Judi will come back, especially after she pledged her support to help save the post office.

“Everyone in the village quite enjoys the buzz of having stars coming here and us appearing in films and the TV.”

The Talbot family is the main reason why this picturesque village, which dates back to Saxon times, stayed so quaint and old-fashioned. Laycock’s landlords since the mid-19th century, the family refused to let the railway in! Their most famous son is Fox Talbot, a pioneer in photography.

Lacock’s history is a long and proud one. The medieval abbey dates back to 1232, and during the Middle Ages the small village became a prosperous and thriving community through its wool industry. Situated on the ‘cloth road’ from London and the River Avon, it had access to the sea at Avonmouth near Bristol. The village was also located on a direct route between London and Bath, and it became a popular stop for travelers. To this day, Lacock remains a small village:

Gaining residence in one of the 89 houses, which date back to the 16th century, is no mean feat. The National Trust has a written letting policy, favouring people with family connections in the village. Having children is also an advantage. Graham Heard, National Trust property manager for Lacock, said: “We have to be selective. People who apply to live here should contribute to community life, so commuters are far from ideal.

Despite having a population of only about 350, Lacock still boasts five pubs, a village hall, a church, a primary school and a local store complete with post office.” (This is Wiltshire)

For Cranford, the village’s Red Lion pub in the High Street was turned into Johnson’s Store. Its ground floor frontage was given a face-lift with a coat of dark gray paint and dry goods were placed in the windows. (Radio Times)

To read more information about Lacock, and to see more images, click on the links below:

It’s Lights Camera and Action in Lacock

Lacock: A Hive of Filming Activity

Picture tour of Lacock

Lacock: National Trust Village and Abbey

Lacock Images


Lacock Abbey

Breathtaking Wiltshire Images

DjD Chronology

Hay in Art: Fox Talbot’s photograph

Wiltshire on Film

Old photos of Lacock: Francis Firth

Walker’s Web Lacock to Bowden Hill, 5.5 miles

Filming in Lacock

Lacock Village: Popular Film Location, Ripple Effects

Lacock, Wiltshire: Britain Express

Quintessentially English: History of Lacock

Sophie Hoffman: European Destination

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As I noted in an earlier review of Cranford, the plot of this Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation revolves around change. Episode Three, to be aired on PBS this Sunday, carries this point further. The two physicians, one of the old school and one trained with new techniques, his head filled with knowledge of the latest medical advances, take center stage as they try to save their patients from the dreaded diseases that rarely afflict civilized society today: croup, whooping cough, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, cholera, dysentery and typhoid fever. Young Dr. Harrison redeems himself time and again by applying new solutions to old problems, thereby saving patients who would not have survived their ordeal with traditional remedies.

In Jane Austen’s time, or the early part of the 19th century, there was a clear distinction between a doctor, surgeon, and apothecary. Doctors were gentlemen of the old school and deemed socially acceptable. They were often invited to dine with the families they treated, or spend the night as guests.

Doctors and physicians occupied the highest rung on the social ladder. Such citizens were considered gentleman because 1) their training did not include apprenticeship and 2) the profession excluded, supposedly, manual labor. Doctors were permitted to dine with the family during home visits, while other practitioners took dinner with the servants. A physician’s fee was wrapped and placed nearby, for theoretically gentleman did not accept money for their work.

Illustration of Lecture Hall from the Glasgow Looking Glass, 1825-1826

A young man embarking on a medical career would attend a prestigious school at Cambridge and Oxford. There he would study Greek and Latin, and, rather than practice on patients, he would observe medical procedures in a lecture hall. Chances were that he received his license without ever having any clinical experience at all.

Cartoonists and satirists, such as Hogarth and Rowlandson, showed little mercy towards doctors and their poor attempts at treating patients. Even the life-saving vaccine for small pox was treated with some humor and derision by James Gilray, since the innoculant came from a cow.

The Cow Pock, James Gillray, 1802

Accepted practices of the day did not include washing hands or changing soiled clothes or bandages, so that doctors often spread illnesses or caused infections. Bleeding through cutting or leeches was an accepted form of treatment:

The most common way of treating a high fever, for example, was to cut open a vein and drain blood from the patient — and not in a small way: a good doctor was expected to cut deep enough that the patient’s blood would spurt into the air with every heartbeat! To make matters worse, the most commonly prescribed “drug” of the time was the toxic element mercury, usually in the form of mercuric chloride.

Surgery was extremely painful, and anesthesia in the form of ether did not appear until 1846. Until that time, doctors relied on mandrake, alcohol, opium, and cannabis for pain relief. (Cocaine was only available in the New World.) Non drug methods of pain relief included cooling the patient or affected area, hypnosis, nerve compression, and blood letting. Because surgeons actually treated the patient by performing physical labor – a trade, so to speak – they occupied a lower rung on the social ladder.

Apothecaries, who learned their profession through apprenticeship and who were definitely considered to be in “trade”, ranked even lower on the social scale. As a group they had “seceded from the Worshipful Company of Grocers, and were incorporated as a separate city livery company in 1617, were supposed to stay in their shops and dispense the prescriptions written by the physicians.” [Apothecaries, Physicians and Surgeons, Roger Jones]

In regions where doctors were scarce, apothecaries also made house calls and treated patients, but largely they mixed drugs and dispensed them, and trained apprentices. A drug’s efficaciousness was hit or miss. By sheer accident, some effective substances were discovered: digitalis, quinine, and calamine, to name several; and a number of proven herbal remedies helped to relieve symptoms. Generally, however,

The technology of making drugs was crude at best: Tinctures, poultices, soups, and teas were made with water- or alcohol-based extracts of freshly ground or dried herbs or animal products such as bone, fat, or even pearls, and sometimes from minerals best left in the ground—mercury among the favored. The difference between a poison and a medicine was a hazy differentiation at best: In the 16th century, Paracelsus declared that the only difference between a medicine and a poison was in the dose. All medicines were toxic. It was cure or kill.

The life of a country doctor was an itinerant one. The 1999 mini-series Wives and Daughters aptly depicted a doctor’s long day, in which he rose at dawn to make his rounds and see patients, often returning exhausted past sunset on his equally weary horse.

Illustration, George du Maurier, 1913

By the end of the 19th century, the medical field had become more professional and organized. Scientific breakthroughs, which included anesthesia, rabies vaccinations, techniques for immunization, sterilization of medical equipment, and an understanding of the origins of infections and of the bacterial world, helped to move the field forward.

Find more links below about medicine during this era:

Images: Photo stills from Cranford and Sense and Sensibility (bleeding Marianne Dashwood); James Gillray cartoons

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Update: Watch Return to Cranford online at this link through February 16, 2010.

The folks at PBS Masterpiece are giving away 20 Cranford novels by Elizabeth Gaskell. For an opportunity to win one of these books, all you need to do is click here and sign up for a free Masterpiece e-newsletter.

Update: In addition, the site is offering a behind the scenes video, as well as streaming videos of Parts One and Two. After Sunday you can view all of Cranford online until May 23rd.

After May 23 you will have to make do with YouTube clips of the movie with foreign subtitles.

Part 3 of Cranford will be shown this Sunday on your local PBS station at 9 pm.

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