Autumn Visit To The Galleries of Manchester

Back in June I received notification of this locally organised trip and, October being a pretty ‘clear’ month, I decided to book the day out. In the end it came hot on the heels of the Edinburgh 48 hour ‘day out’.

“Autumn Visit to the Galleries of Manchester.
Wednesday 12th October 2016

Manchester, or “Cottonopolis” was one of the great cities of Victorian England. That wealth is reflected to-day in the magnificent art collections housed in the city galleries.

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Monastery Music in Manchester


in the monastery

Earlier this year my friend Betty told me about her trip to The Monastery in Manchester. I had never heard of it but as soon as I read on the website :

Manchester’s magnificent Monastery is Pugin’s architectural masterpiece. It sits alongside the Taj Mahal and the ancient ruins of Pompeii as having been listed in the 100 most endangered sites in the world, with a rich heritage that should never be lost.Continue reading

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and Home

GH Blue Plaque

In the 28 September Arts and Books supplement to The Independent on Sunday I was pleased to read about the imminent opening in Manchester of the former home of Elizabeth Gaskell – more commonly known as the novelist Mrs Gaskell. Her Cranford books have been serialised on TV recently. But there is much much more to Mrs Gaskell and her writing than this rather cosy drama portrays. I recently read “Ruth” and for a novel written by the respectable wife of a Unitarian Minister it is really quite an eye-opener but an excellent read. Read a resumé here. In addition two excellent miniseries of her books ‘North and South‘ and ‘Wives and Daughters‘ were first broadcast on BBC TV in 2004 and 1999 respectively.

I straightaway headed to the house website and read this :

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 – 14:30 to 16:00

Book Launch: Carolyn Lambert ‘The Meanings of Home in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Fiction”


Join us for the launch of Carolyn Lambert’s new book ‘The Meanings of Home in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Fiction’. Lambert explores how Gaskell challenges the convention of the Victorian home as a place of safety in her novels. In particular she illustrates her theme through the importance of homelessness in Gaskell’s work. Lambert’s book draws not only on the novels but also Gaskell’s letters and non-fiction writings and has recently been shortlisted for the Sonia Rudikoff Prize for the best Victorian book by a first time author.

A tour of the house and refreshments are included in the ticket price. Copies of the book will be on sale at a special price.

Gaskell House

84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester

So I booked a ticket for the talk and for the train and yesterday set off for Manchester. I’m afraid I don’t find Manchester any easy city to get around. Perhaps I don’t know it well enough. I eventually found a bus that would take me to Plymouth Grove and which  dropped me off outside number 84.

Welcome to Gaskell House

Carolyn’s talk took place in the Gaskell’s sitting room – yes, the very room in which Charlotte Bronte hid behind the curtains in order to avoid being seen by guests! Photography is allowed and we could sit on the comfy chairs, sofas and chaise longues. I was told that items covered in perspex were original to the house and had been gifted or lent by various donors or galleries and the rest of the furnishings and fittings were either of the period and style of the house during the time when the Gaskells had lived there or were reproductions.

Sitting room

The comfortable, relaxed sitting room

Carolyn began her talk with a resumé of Mrs Gaskell’s life. I have lifted this from the House website :

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell was born in 1810 and lived at 84 Plymouth Grove with her family from 1850 until her death in 1865.

“To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood…” Wives and Daughters

She was born as Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson in London in 1810. A year later, on the death of her mother, she was taken to live in Knutsford, Cheshire, with her aunt, Hannah Lumb. The arrangement was a happy one – she was to refer to her aunt as “my more than mother” and was to use Knutsford as the inspiration for her fictitious town of Cranford. Knutsford also became ‘Hollingford’ in Wives and Daughters.

In 1832 Elizabeth married William Gaskell, the assistant minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester. Their third home was a large house near open fields – 42 (now 84) Plymouth Grove. Here they grew flowers and vegetables, and kept a cow, pigs and poultry. The House was always bustling and the family entertained a stream of visitors, including many eminent people. Gaskell connections included such people as the Wedgwoods, the Darwins and the Nightingales, but girls from the Sunday School also came to the house regularly, as did William’s students and fellow clergy.”

She then went on to discuss some of the aspects of home touched upon in the Gaskell novels as well as in Mrs Gaskell’s own life. (Interestingly, she was a keen traveller and some years spent only half the year at home). The home in the novels symbolises security, it’s where relationships develop, it’s a place for creativity and self-expression. But she also wrote about homelessness and the role of servants. Elizabeth Gaskell was ambivalent about Manchester and was torn between family and a longing for the rural environment. Her large house looks rather incongruous these days amidst modern buildings and areas of wasteland on Plymouth Grove but when she was living and writing here it was rural area and the house had a long garden stretching back down Swinton Grove but now built upon by flats.

There wasn’t time in the end to do the full tour – so I will have to return on another occasion and make a more full report of the house but I did peep into ground floor rooms :

Dining Table

The Dining Room

Gaskell writing desk

Mrs Gaskell’s Desk at one end of the Dining Room

William's study

William Gaskell’s Study

William portrait in study

William Gaskell

and refreshments were served downstairs in the basement tea room and bookshop (new and secondhand).

Tea room

The Tea Room

Pertinent quotations from Mrs Gaskell add a touch of humour

Quote 1


Quote 2

And in the Ladies Loos :

Ladies' quote

As the instructions for finding a bus that would take me back to Piccadilly Station didn’t work out I was thankful for one thing about Manchester – taxis with lights were easy to hail and thus I made my way back to the train and thence to my own home in comfort.

GH Rear view

Rear of Gaskell House




Where Shall we go today? Back in Manchester with Grayson Perry

Yesterday I was back in Manchester to visit the Art Gallery and the Tapas Bar again. This time the weather was freezing cold but fortunately stayed dry. I’d hoped to get back to visit the Grayson Perry exhibition centred around the gallery’s recent purchases of two of GP’s art works. This exhibition is only on until 12 February so I was very pleased to catch it. In addition it was also a great pleasure to meet up with a friend who moved over to the Wirral nearly 20 years ago. Manchester makes a good midway place to meet especially in winter when we can travel there easily by train.

Before we entered the GP room we were intrigued to see an installation entitled “Where shall we go today?” It consisted of old suitcases and pieces of luggage piled up against the wall and covered with tie-on luggage labels. Some artists had been invited to answer the question and their tags are covered in plastic but then the public and mainly (it seemed to me) school children were let loose with their dreams and ideas and the result is pictured below :

Visual Dialogues was like a mini ‘Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman‘ but with a difference. The Manchester Art Gallery has bought  the vase ‘Jane Austen in E17’ and print ‘Print for a Politician’ with financial help from The Goldstone and Livingstone Family Trusts, in memory of their parents’ friendship, together with funding from the Art Fund and support from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. A group of young people aged 15-18 who call themselves The Creative Consultants have done what Perry did at the British Museum and gone into the archives of MGA and chosen artefacts to display alongside the vase and the print.

“Jane Austen in E17 (2009) is a beautifully executed large ceramic vase inspired in shape by Chinese porcelain, decorated with detailed drawings of elaborately dressed Georgian ladies taking tea and conversing. The genteel figures reflect Perry’s interest in the feminine and his knowledge of historic dress. They refer to the ideal view of British culture portrayed in popular costume dramas of Jane Austen’s novels.

In contrast to these idealised figures, the vase also features layered photographic transfers of contemporary life, including cuttings from celebrity magazines and more sinister references to crime and surveillance, taken from the streets around Perry’s studio in London’s E17.” (Manchester Art Gallery)

Here are some examples of what the young people chose :

“Print for a Politician (2005) is only the second print that Perry treated as a major work; it took over a month to draw. The etching shows groups of people including academics, fundamentalists, northerners, parents and transvestites in a landscape setting, each group given a name, like a place name on an old map. All the groups are armed for battle, with weapons of war from different periods and cultures. Perry’s intention for this work is to show the complexity of human society. He hopes audiences will identify with one or more of the groups and realise it is possible to live together peacefully despite our differences.” (Manchester Art Gallery)

In addition we saw three other Grayson Perry vases on loan from other galleries.

All in all the exhibition was “small but perfectly formed”.

Christmas Traditions – a Trip with Lunch

Each year I spend a special day with a friend during the run up to Christmas. In the past we’ve gone on a hike and had a lunch or combined with something cultural. Last year we hiked along the River Wharfe and ended up with lunch at The Devonshire Fell Hotel at Burnsall. In previous years we’ve been to The Yorkshire Sculpture Park where it’s possible to walk for a few miles before taking lunch in their lovely light and airy first floor restaurant. This year was no exception but instead of the walk/hike part we took the train to Manchester and visited The Manchester Art Gallery which is currently showing a Ford Madox Brown exhibition; subtitled “Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer”. Earlier this year I met with friends for an Art Fund visit to the city which included a tour of The John Rylands Library and should have included a visit to the Ford Madox Brown murals in Manchester Town Hall. However another event took precedence over ours and we had to make do with a ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour of the town hall.

The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown


During the 1990s I did a course in Victorian Studies which included a Victorian Art module. I can’t say that I love the Pre-Raphaelites but I did find the study of nineteenth century paintings interesting because they are laden with symbolism. Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) was never a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but he did influence them through his ‘primitive simplicity’ style of the age before Raphael.

Emma Hill (Study for The Last of England) 1852.

Ford Madox Brown produced a prodigious amount of work in many forms and media. There are some beautiful sketches and drawings and several very famous paintings many of which are from the Gallery’s own collections, from the University of Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery and Birmingham Art Gallery. The most famous and featured here are Work and The Last of England (above).

The exhibition is divided into themes around FMB’s life and work including: The Artist and His Family, The Early Period, The Change of Direction, The Landscape Painter and The Portrait Painter. Perhaps of most interest to me was The Storyteller theme where the drawings and paintings depict characters from literature as in his King Lear series of drawings and his paintings of the origins of literature – Geoffrey Chaucer reading the ‘Legend of Custance’ to Edward III and his Court and Wycliffe Reading his Translation of the Bible. There are illustrations from the works of Lord Byron; significantly his Manfred on the Jungfrau and from Victor Hugo’s poem ‘A un passant’ – The traveller.

The Traveller

(Source : )

Manfred on the Jungfrau

(Source : )

On our way out of the gallery we caught sight of a new Grayson Perry exhibit so looks like I may be making a trip back to Manchester in the new year. Who knows?

And as we left the gallery the heavens opened and we made a mad dash for the tapas bar – Evuna – a couple of streets away where our weather woes were soon forgotten!

On our way home though we did express our relief to each other that we had chosen to spend our day in a gallery rather than on the hills – we got wet enough without!