Cranford star and acting icon Dame Judi Dench, visits Knutsford
Watched by an estimated audience of 8 million, the beautifully shot series has firmly put Knutsford on the map.
Because Knutsford, of course, is the real Cranford, childhood home of author Elizabeth Gaskell and inspiration for her most loved work.
This huge literary legacy is important to us at the Heritage Centre and has given us a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of Knutsford’s greatest known personality.
So, when I picked up a call from Jonathan yesterday afternoon saying that he had heard Judi Dench was in town, I couldn’t believe my luck! The pair of us agreed to meet up outside Mallard –the inspiration for the fictional Miss Matty’s tea shop, perhaps the most likely place to find our star.
Alas, she was not there and as we wandered the streets, we found our way into the Courtyard Coffee Shop. We were told she had been there about an hour ago. I couldn’t believe we’d missed her. Thinking she may well be making a visit to the Heritage Centre while I was out, I decided to go back and stay put as Jonathan continued his search. Just 5 minutes later, he called again with the words ‘Piccolinos, quick!’
Off I went back down the street and… sure enough, our star was there.
As Jonathan introduced me to her, she listened with interest as I told her about our Cranford Tours and how Knutsford had greatly benefitted from the series. She took information about the Centre and was delighted to hear that the town was using the drama to promote its connection with the great author. She explained that she was in Knutsford to get a ‘sense of atmosphere’ and talked to me about the Gaskell house in Manchester and being a patron of the Gaskell Society.
Although, she couldn’t make time for a visit to the Centre she gladly agreed to pose for a photograph, along side her friend and fellow actress Penny Ryder, and even signed one of our leaflets.
It was all over quite quickly and as I wandered back to work, I just couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. It absolutely made my day!
Since the success of the BBC series, the Heritage Centre has launched its official Cranford Tours. A short walking tour of Knutsford, visitors can see the childhood home of the author and many of the shops and residences frequented by the real-life Cranford ladies. These tours have attracted coach parties into Knutsford from across the North West including Lancashire, Derbyshire and North Wales.
Bringing a real boost to the town’s visitor economy, these tourists may be drawn to Knutsford by the Cranford Connection but will often spend the rest of their day in the town, spending money is its shops and restuarants. While tours can be booked for visiting groups, a Heritage Centre guide also takes tours every Sunday from 2pm at a small charge of £3 per person.
To find out more, visit the Centre website www.knutsfordheritage.com
Image credits ©2009 Jonathan Farber Photography