On 29 September 2010 Mrs Joan Leach celebrated the Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary at the Brook Street Chapel in Knutsford, and the next day
she passed away rather suddenly and peacefully in Tabley House, the nursing facility in her town. May her soul rest in peace.
Mrs Joan Leach, "Knutsford and Cheshire in Elizabeth Gaskell's Life and Works," Shibuya, Tokyo, 3 June 2006. (a 5-minute video clip)
Our Cycling Cyclopaedia of Gaskell and Knutsford
Joan handling her computer
I was born in Knutsford and grew up in the town with Gaskell Avenue and Cranford cake shops, so it was impossible NOT to know something about Mrs Gaskell. However it was only Cranford that I, and many others, remembered Elizabeth Gaskell for; although I discovered her Life of Charlotte Bronte in my teens all her other works were out of print and difficult to get.
We have seen a long overdue revival of interest in her life and works and look forward to further editions and studies.
In 1960 Knutsford celebrated the 150th Anniversary of Elizabeth's birth with a number of events, but I was not then resident in the town so did not take part. In 1985 I was talking to a friend about our shared enthusiasm for Gaskell and was reminded of the events of 25 years ago. It seemed to me that the 175th anniversary should be noted with a dinner and speaker - after all I might not be around if I waited for the 200th! The response to this event encouraged me to call a meeting to launch the Society.
It is with great pleasure that I share Elizabeth Gaskell with fellow enthusiasts all round the world.
Joan dressed for 'An Evening with the Victorians at Tabley House'.
Joan Leach Laying of Flowers on Elizabeth Gaskell's Grave at AGM Weekend.
The Gaskell Society Newsletter No. 26 (August 1998)
Cross Street Chapel
Grim and grey Manchester certainly was on the night of Friday, March 6th, though not smoky , for a steady rain fell as I made my way to Cross Street Chapel to attend the re-dedication ceremony. However all was bright inside.
Janet Allan and myself, representing the Society, were honoured to be among the invited guests and representatives of other denominations: including the Bishop and Dean of Manchester; the President of the General Assembly of Unitarian and free Christian churches;Dr David Wykes, tutor at Harris Manchester College, Oxford and Rev Leonard Smith, principal of the Unitarian College. The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Manchester were resplendent in their regalia and the representative ministers in their various clerical robes added dignity and a fine sense of occasion. I recalled Elizabeth's Gaskell's meeting and opinion on the Bishop of her day and felt I was representing her, too at this occasion, though I would not be admitted to the present Bishop's study to judge him by his pictures! (GL. 70)
The Chapel's minister, the Rev John Midgley, welcomed the congregation. Dr Geoffrey Head, Chairman of the Trustees, accepting a symbolic presentation key spoke of the historic traditions of this city centre chapel, damaged by a Jacobite attack in 1745, and by the 1940 blitz, rebuilt in 1959 and now this latest rebuilding linked the past with the future.
The Rev. Arthur Long in his address reminded the congregation of the celebated institutions which owed their origin to Cross Street Chapel: Manchester College, Oxford,Unitarian College, the Manchester literary and Philosophical Society and The Manchester Guardian. He spoke of the progress of the congregation through five homes, quoting from Oliver Wendell Holmes' The Chambered Nautilus:
The chapel treasures its links with the Gaskells and has a included a Gaskell Room in its design, incorporated an earlier memorial in the walls
The whole building is light and airy w ith rooms for various uses on two floors . Rents from the offices on floors above will provide an income for the Chapel The circular chapel, with its light woodwork, has excellent accoustics and an air of peace. By ringing the bell outside visitors will be welcomed during usual office hours to be shown the building or just to enjoy the oasis of calm. There is a half hour service on Wednesdays at 1 pm.
I thought I had discovered an unknown photograph of a previous Cross Street Chapel but Geoffrey Head tells me it almost certainly that of Chapel Road, Sale which was previously known as Cross Street. He adds:'The old chapel was built in 1739 and was the place of worship for the Presbyterian/Unitarian congregation until 1876, when a splendid new church was built by Rev J Relly Beard, the friend and contemporary of William Gaskell'; when the former died in the late 1870's his funeral address was given by William Gaskell.
Geoffrey Head adds that he saw the chapel in the 1960's just before demolition. Thes ite is occupied by three town houses , with the young saplings in this photograph now grown to massive,mature trees.