Exciting times ahead at Brook Street Chapel
Most people are aware that Brook Street Chapel is the oldest place of worship in the town and also its only Grade 1 listed building. It was built in 1689 by a dedicated group of freethinking Christians and still has that ethos today.
Elizabeth Gaskell worshipped there until her marriage to William Gaskell who was the Minister of Cross Street Chapel, Manchester but her heart never left Knutsford. She and her family visited her close friends in Knutsford and the Chapel frequently.
Her novels are testimony to her love of Knutsford (Cranford) and the description of the Chapel in “Ruth” shows that it has changed very little since her time. After her sudden and untimely death she was buried in the Chapel graveyard and eventually her husband and two unmarried daughters joined her in the family grave. They are surrounded by other eminent Knutsfordians.
The Chapel and the Gaskell Grave are places of pilgrimage for Gaskell enthusiasts from all over the U.K. and the world. The popularity of the B.B.C. filming of “Cranford” and the subsequent programmes has vastly increased interest in Gaskell.
The Chapel itself is reached by steep stone steps and cobbled paths which elderly and disabled people find impossible to manage and so more than five years ago the committee decided to improve the access to the Chapel, the Gaskell grave and to the tranquil garden at the rear of the Chapel.
The project sounded simple enough but the Chapel’s Grade 1 status and the ancient yew trees meant that there were many restrictions to overcome. The architect came up with an ingenious plan that solved the access problem but left us with another problem “how to pay for it”! For the last few years the Chapel members have fund raised themselves, applied for grants and been blessed by generous donations from benefactors.
So what is happening?
1 A lift is being installed in the schoolroom to enable disabled people to reach the newly installed first floor.
2 The new room will exit to a level wheelchair friendly path which leads to the Chapel.
3 The gravestones by the Chapel are being levelled and a viewing platform is being built which will overlook the Gaskell grave.
4 The garden will be reached via slightly stepped gravestones.
5 New toilets and other facilities will be installed.
1 The new room will be developed into an exhibition centre dedicated to Elizabeth Gaskell.
2 There will be other temporary displays eg History of the Chapel, important Knutsford characters etc.
3 The Chapel will be open regularly for visitors and tourists.
4 Work closely and co-operatively with Knutsford Heritage Centre.
What does this mean for Brook Street Chapel and Knutsford?
1 Everyone will be able to reach the Chapel.
2 The overall facilities including the main hall will be good and so other local organisations can use the premises for meetings, workshops, readings, rehearsals, concerts etc.
3 It will be open for people wishing to find out about the Chapel and its history
4 It will be a focal point for Gaskell enthusiasts.
5 It will be a tourist attraction.
6 We hope that local people will be encouraged to come to Brook Street Chapel and find out for themselves what a wonderful friendly place it is and to enjoy its unique beauty.
This year (2010) is the bicentenary of Elizabeth Gaskell’s birth and many events are being organised in Knutsford, Manchester, London etc to celebrate her life Obviously Brook Street Chapel is heavily involved throughout the year and its members are organising four main events.
Flower Festival & Victorian Tea
Dates 14th, 15th, 16th & 17th May (Fri.-Mon.)
Members of Knutsford & District Flower Club are creating the flower arrangements and each arrangement will depict one of the Gaskell novels and there will be a special arrangement on her grave
Elizabeth Gaskell’s Birthday Celebration
Date:- 29th September (Wednesday)
Special Service commemorating Mrs Gaskell’s birth anniversary
Date Sunday October 3rd
Victorian Christmas Concert by Opus 5
Date :- Saturday December 4th
More details about all the above events will appear nearer the time. As well as the above there will be a “Grand Opening” of the access project. to be confirmed later.