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Early Years And Marriage
It is often strange how the ideas we have of people are affected by small and often irrelevant facts. The name of Mrs Gaskell has a flat, dull ring. And a Victorian lady novelist, the wife of a worthy Minister, does not sound as if she would be an exciting person. Yet any impression of dullness is completely opposed to the truth. If we have a mistaken picture in our minds, we must try to rub it out and start again. For the true image of Mrs Gaskell that emerges from any serious study is of a lively, gay and attractive woman, a charming hostess, and yet a writer with a hint of the rebel about her who was not afraid to shock her own generation.
Below: Heathwaite
Heathwaite in KnutsfordShe was born Elizabeth Stevenson in Chelsea in 1810. Her mother, who was a member of a well known Cheshire family, the Holland's, died soon afterwards and Elizabeth went to live with her aunt Lumb (formerly Hannah Holland) at Heathwaite, on the edge of The Heath at Knutsford. We know very little about her childhood, but we know that as she grew older, Elizabeth enjoyed many happy times in and around Knutsford. She has herself left us a delightful account of picnicking at Tabley:

Near the little, clean, kindly country town, where as I said before I was brought up, there was an old house with moat within a park called Old Tabley, formerly the dwelling pace of Sir Peter Leycester, the historian of Cheshire, and accounted a fine specimen of the Elizabethan style…Here, on summer evenings did we often come, a merry young party, on donkey, pony or even in a cart with sacks swung across - each with our favourite book, some with sketch books, and one or twp baskets filled with eatables. Here we rambled, lounged and meditated; some stretched on the grass in indolent repose, half reading, half musing, with a posy of musk roses from the old fashioned trim garden behind the house, lulled by the ripple of the waters against the grassy lawn, some in the old crazy boats, that would do nothing but float on the glassy water, singing, for one or two were of a most musical family and warbled like birds, "Through the Greenwood" or "A Boat, A Boat unto the Ferry" or some such old catch or glee.
And when the meal was spread beneath a beech tree of no ordinary size (did you ever notice the peculiar turf under beech shade?), one of us would mount up a ladder to the belfry of the old chapel and toll the bell to call the wanderers home. Then, if it rained, what merrymaking in the old hall! It was galleried, with oak settles and old armours hung up, and a painted window from ceiling to floor. The strange sound our voices had in that unfrequented stone hall!  

Tabley House
Tabley House
Through much of her teens Elizabeth was away at boarding school, and on leaving school she went on a long round of visits to her relatives, her parents being then both dead. But she was back in Knutsford for her wedding to the Rev William Gaskell in 1832. Mr Gaskell was Assistant Minister, and later became Minister, of the Cross Street Chapel in Manchester. Elizabeth was a pretty girl who enjoyed balls and parties, and her engagement to Mr. Gaskell seems to have surprised her Aunt Lumb who said to her, 'Why, Elizabeth, how could this man ever take a fancy to a little giddy thoughtless thing like you?'. It was undoubtedly a love match and the marriage was a very happy one.