84 Plymouth Grove was designed in the Italianate style, probably by architect Richard Lane, circa 1838, and was speculatively built as part of a wider development catering to the burgeoning middle-classes in the area, then on the outskirts of the city. The villa housed grand drawing and dining rooms, seven bedrooms and even a coach house wing. The lavish house was built in response to the newly emerging middle class citizens of Manchester. The city, which had rapidly expanded due to the industrial revolution, held various degrees of housing, ranging from, poverty-ridden slum housing to the new era of luxurious housing such as 84 Plymouth Road. The design of the building is unique; the house contains twenty rooms on three floors with a rectangular front porch containing four columns carved with a lotus leaf shape, reminiscent of the Tower of the Winds in Athens. Stucco features on the front facade of the house. Despite the house's facade having a pink coat for years, earning it the nickname 'The Pink House', during the times of Elizabeth Gaskell the walls were described as a "stone-colour". Elizabeth and William, along with their children, Marianne, Margaret Emily "Meta", Florence and Julia, moved into the house (then numbered 42 Plymouth Grove) in June 1850, after the publication of Elizabeth's first novel, Mary Barton. However, they had lived in Manchester for some time previously as William Gaskell's job of assistant Minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, required the family to move from Knutsford, in neighbouring Cheshire. The family had stayed at two different locations in Manchester, both of which have now been demolished.
84 Plymouth Grove's decadence concerned Gaskell, who, despite calling the house "a beauty", was concerned about residing in such an expensive house (the rent was £150 per annum) while others lived in poverty. Despite Elizabeth's concerns, the Gaskells were not frugal, with the twenty room house costing half of William's salary in rent. Elizabeth, feeling guilty, justified it by stating, "It is [William] who is to decide on all these things". Until the birth of their children they required only one servant, Betsy, however, at Plymouth Grove much more domestic staff were employed, including a cook, several maids, a handyman for outdoor work, as well as a washerwoman and a seamstress. Elizabeth trained her staff and looked after their welfare whilst they were employed at the house. Charlotte Brontë, who visited the house three times between 1851 and 1854, described it as "a large, cheerful, airy house, quite out of Manchester smoke". The "Manchester smoke", as Brontë described it, was smog generated from the hundreds of textile factories and cotton mills situated within the inner city, in particular the Ancoats area. In 1853, coinciding with the times of Brontë's visits, there were 108 mills in Manchester; the peak number of mills within Manchester. On one occasion, the meek Brontë even hid behind the curtains in Gaskells' drawing room as she was too shy to meet the other guests.
Barbara Brill, biographer of William Gaskell, stated that "Plymouth Grove could be likened to the activities of a beehive", due to the Gaskells entertaining many guests whilst living at the house. Besides Brontë, visitors to the house during Elizabeth Gaskell's lifetime included Charles Dickens, who, on one occasion in 1852, made an impromptu visit to the house, along with his wife at 10am, much to the dismay of Elizabeth, who mentioned it to be "far too early". John Ruskin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, American writer Charles Eliot Norton and conductor Charles Hallé also visited Elizabeth Gaskell at Plymouth Grove. Hallé visited the house often, teaching Meta Gaskell how to play the piano. Gaskell lived at Plymouth Grove with her family until her death 15 years later, in 1865, and all of her later books were written there, including some of her most famous works, such as 'Morland Cottage', 'The Grey Woman', 'Cranford' and 'North and South'. The House and garden are both fully accessible. Flat floor wheelchair and pushchair access is at the side of the House. Lift to all floors. Accessible toilets on each floor. Baby changing facilities. They offer private tours on Mondays, Tuesdays and Friday, by arrangement.
Location : 84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester, M13 9LW.
Transport: Oxford Road Station (National Rail, 1.5 kms/1m) and Manchester Piccadilly(National Rail). Bus route 197 between Stockport and Manchester City Centre runs along Plymouth Grove. Many other buses run along Upper Brook Street (2 mins walk), Oxford Road and Stockport Road.
Opening Times: Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday 11:00 to 16:30
Tickets: Adults £4.95 Concessions £3.95 Children Free.
Tel: 0161 273 2215