Knutsford is the original of Mrs. Gaskell's 'Cranford'. It is described
as 'Hollingford' in 'Wives and Daughters', where it is 'the little,
straggling town close to the entrance lodge of a great park, where
lived my Lord and Lady Cumnor - The Earl and Countess, as they were
called by the townspeople.' This reference is to Lord and Lady Egerton,
and the entrance lodge and gates of Tatton Park are still at the
North end of King Street. The old town of Knutsford is described
as 'Dulcombe' in 'Mrs. Harrison's Confessions'; as 'Eltham' in 'Cousin
Phillis; as 'Hamley' in 'A Dark Night's Work' and as 'Bamford' in
'The Squire's Tale'.
Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson was born on 29th September 1810, in
Lindsey Row, now numbered 3 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London; and was
the daughter of Elizabeth and William Stevenson, her father being
keeper of the records to the Treasury. In November, 1811, she was
brought, a motherless baby of 12 months old, her mother having died
a month before, by stage coach to Knutsford to the house of her
aunt, Mrs. Hannah Lumb, by a Mrs. Whittington. This journey is said
to have suggested the incident in Mrs. Gaskell's novel 'Mary Barton'
where two grandfathers brought their motherless grand- daughter
from London by stagecoach and whether this is so or not the parallel
Heathwaite, 17 Gaskell Avenue
Mrs. Lumb, her mother's sister, lived at the tall brick house known
as Heathwaite, Gaskell Avenue (or Heathside). This house overlooks
the Knutsford Heath, which is still some thirty acres in extent.
The Heath during Mrs. Gaskell's time was open to the road, being
railed in 1887 (see Fayne's 'Knutsford' pages 30-31). When Elizabeth
Gaskell first came to Knutsford in 1811, the Heath was not divided
as it is today into the Big
Heath and the Little Heath, but was one large tract of land. In
Mrs. Gaskell's time, a successful race course with a fine grandstand
was maintained on the Heath. Races were held annually in July from
1729 to 1857, after which the grandstand was pulled down.
Heath House, Gaskell Avenue
On the western boundary of Heathwaite was situated The White House,
now known as Heath House, whose secret passages gave rise to many
legends. Here lived for several years the notorious Highwayman,
Edward Higgins. The highwayman is portrayed in Mrs. Gaskell's novel
'The Squire's Tale'. Heath House was in 1741 and for many years
after, known as the Cann Office, where weights and measures of the
county were officially tested, and where William Pitt, Prime Minister
of England, visited his relative, Charles Cholmondeley, as a youth.
Higgins was married at the Parish Church and his wife and two children
are buried in
the churchyard. The old Girls School, locally known as Lady Mary's
School, is described in 'Wives and Daughters' as being outside the
gates of Cumnor Towers, in which Miss Cynthia took so great an interest.