Beyond the Bonnets!
But careful watching would have revealed a deeper, darker side to the pleasant village of Cranford (actually Knutsford, where Elizabeth grew up) and many hints of the social problems and injustices of Victorian life. Illness and death were constants of life for both rich and poor, in the country as well as in the slums of Manchester, where the infant mortality rate was over 20% and the average life expectancy for a labourer was only 17.
Elizabeth knew the slums of Manchester well; she lived in the city for most of her life, as her husband William was minister of Cross St Unitarian Chapel, the city’s oldest non-conformist congregation. They both ministered in the nearby streets, where up to 300,000 of the area’s poorest industrial workers lived, in badly built, crowded, insanitary housing, as described by Frederich Engels in his famous work “The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844”.
Other prominent Victorian Mancunians also worshipped at Cross Street Chapel, such as Thomas Potter, first Mayor of Manchester; Lady Ann Bland, who after William’s death returned to the Anglican church and built nearby St Ann’s; and John Edward Taylor, first editor of the Manchester Guardian.
A life-long Unitarian, daughter as well as wife of a minister, Elizabeth was born 200 years ago, on 29 September 1810, and died on 12th November 1865.
This talk is one of the many events marking the bicentenary of her birth and is a celebration of her life in words and images, exploring her connections and networks with Unitarians nationally, her own religious views, and her opinions on the various Unitarian developments and tensions of her day.
It will be presented by the Rev Dr Ann Peart, vice president of the Unitarian General Assembly and recently retired principal of Unitarian College Manchester, who has researched the lives of Unitarian women. Peter Sampson, actor, member of the Chapel Street congregation and another life-long Unitarian, will be reading excerpts from Elizabeth Gaskell’s writings.
Gaskell Event at Cross Street Chapel. Sunday 12th September 12:30pm