The Gaskell Society

The Gaskell Society

Celebrating the life and work of Elizabeth Gaskell

In 1845 while scarlet fever was rife in Manchester, Elizabeth Gaskell took her young family, comprising then of three girls and a baby boy, William, out to North Wales to avoid the infection.

Sadly, Marianne contracted the fever and then Willie, as he was affectionately called. Marianne recovered but Willie died aged 9 months 18 days. The death of her only son was devasting. In 1845 she writes ‘my darling darling, Willie, who now sleeps sounder still in the dull, dreary chapel-yard at Warrington’.  (Letter 25a Chapple and Pollard). An article in the Gaskell Society Journal, vol. 13, 1999, p. 108 gives a thorough account of Willie’s death in Porthmadog.

One question that fascinated me for some time after I started work as a volunteer at the Elizabeth Gaskell  House was this – why was Elizabeth’s baby buried at Cairo St. Chapel in Warrington and not in Knutsford?  Well, it took a visit to the chapel one Heritage Weekend to find the answer; and if you are interested in the Gaskell family, then Cairo Street holds a wealth of information about Revd. William Gaskell’s roots in Latchford, Warrington. 

Cairo Street Unitarian Chapel, formerly Sankey street Chapel, had been the Gaskell’s family church since the 17th century, although the present chapel was built much later. Although the Unitarian community existed way back into the late 1600s, Unitarianism as a dissenting religion was not accepted and therefore many records of births, deaths and marriages are found in the registers of the local parish churches, which for the Gaskell community of Latchford, Warrington, was St Elphin’s. I hope to publish more blogs on William’s family at a later date.   

The graveyard, or chapel-yard as Gaskell calls it, and church records are an invaluable source of information on William’s ancestors. Below is a photograph of six Gaskell graves, with a seventh just tantalisingly out of site behind the fuchsia bush.

In the foreground you can see the obelisk in memory of William’s sister, Ann, her husband William Robson, and their two boys, Edwin (1854), who died as an infant, and William (1868), who died aged 18. While Ann died in 1889 aged 81 years, her husband lived to be 91 years old, amazing for those times! There are many letters between Elizabeth and Ann, whom she calls Nancy, and it was Ann that was invited to spend time at the Gaskell’s new house in Plymouth Grove. 

 To the left of the obelisk is a chest in memory of Holbrook Gaskell, Revd. William’s second cousin who made his fortune in chemicals. He is perhaps best known as the Gaskell partner in Nasmyth and Gaskell of Bridgewater foundry in Patricroft where the steam hammer was invented. Nasmyth was also a friend of Elizabeth and William. 

To the left of the obelisk is the chest memorial of William’s father, also William, his mother Margaret, a young sister, also sister Margaret, who died 1816 aged only  6yrs and brother John who died in 1821 aged 4 yrs.  To the right of that memorial is another large chest with just one name inscribed on it, that of William Gaskell, Elizabeth and William’s infant son who died August 10th 1845 aged 9 months and 18 days. The very size of this chest appears disproportionate when you consider the tiny child buried within, yet on reading the inscription all becomes clear (see below).

The space after ‘Here lie the remains’ seems to indicate that the chest was also intended for  Elizabeth and William, but they never joined Willie in Cairo St., instead their final resting place was with their two unmarried daughters, Margaret (Meta) and Julia in Brook St. Chapel, Knutsford. A photograph of their grave has been posted on this website.

Moving up towards the chapel and to the left of from Willie’s grave, lies Revd. William’s first cousin Roger Gaskell with his wife Ann (née Hunter) and their three sons. Roger’s son Holbrook has already been discussed.  Next to Roger and Ann is William Woodcock Gaskell who I think may be Roger’s brother but the records are sketchy.   

The Chest beyond these is that of another Roger Gaskell, his wife Esther (née Woodcock), three of their sons, and two of their daughters.  Roger is Revd. William’s great uncle, the brother of William’s grandfather Samuel, who – interestingly – also married a Woodcock.  An educated guess would put these two women as sisters, or at the least cousins, but again evidence is tantalisingly elusive. Samuel’s grave is across the path onto the other side of the graveyard ( see below)

Finally, by the chapel wall lies a stone engraved with the names of William’s great grandfather and great grandmother, another Roger and   his wife Elizabeth, (née Barnes), Roger was born in 1699.

I will be adding more information on Warrington and the Gaskells soon, so keep looking!

Diane Duffy