The Gaskell Society

The Gaskell Society

Celebrating the life and work of Elizabeth Gaskell

As we open our conference in Hinckley this year, I ask the question : ‘What is the importance of location in the works of Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot?’ For this second part, after leaving Nuneaton we will head out to Astley. 

Astley Castle and Church

Astley Castle

Astley was named Knebley in Mr Gilfil’s Love Story. Eliot visited Astley Castle with her father as it was the home of  Colonel Newdigate, the son of Evans’s employer. In Mr Gilfil’s Love Story the castle appears as Knebley Abbey, although Eliot offers no description of the building in her story.

Astley St Mary Church

Astley Church  on the other hand, where Eliot’s parents married in 1813 is described:

Knebley, where he officiated in a wonderful little church, with a checkered pavement which had once rung to the iron tread of military monks, with coats of arms in clusters on the lofty roof, marble warriors and their wives without noses occupying a large proportion of the area, and the twelve apostles, with their heads very much on one side, holding didactic ribbons, painted in fresco on the walls [ and where]… The farmers’ wives and children sat on the dark oaken benches

Griff House

From here we move to Griff House which is where the Eliot family moved in 1820 after leaving South Farm on the Arbury estate.

Griff House farm offices

Claire Carlisle states that Eliot travelled extensively to find an area that suited her imaginary location for the area which she called the Floss (The Mill on the Floss, 1860). Eventually she settled on Gainsborough’ in Lincolnshire’. Yet , despite this choice, she still manages to blend memories of Griff House and the area around Nuneaton where she spent so much time as a child and a young woman  The family moved to Coventry in 1841 and this became the setting for Middlemarch. As Catherine Middleton states, in The Mill on the Floss, Eliot‘ blends memories of Nuneaton with observations of Gainsborough’ in Lincolnshire’ (note 1).

In fact, she is  purported to have used the attic room at Griff House as her retreat at Dorlcotte Mill.

Maggie was already out of hearing, making her way toward the great attic that ran under the old high-pitched roof, … This attic was Maggie’s favourite retreat on a wet day, when the weather was not too cold; here she fretted out all her ill humours, and talked aloud to the worm-eaten floors and the worm-eaten shelves, and the dark rafters festooned with cobwebs;

While it is possible to imagine Griff House (now a Beefeater Inn) as the model for Maggie’s childhood home, the  idea is based on a belief that the novel is semi-autobiographical, exploring her childhood with her brother Isaac, rather than providing an accurate depiction of the building’s architecture or furnishings.


Griff Hollows, near Nuneaton

Griff Hollows

Griff Hollows also fits quite closely to Eliot’s description of the Red Deeps in The Mill on the Floss.

It was here that Maggie regularly met Philip, who encouraged her education and who ultimately fell in love with her.


One of her frequent walks,… was to a spot that lay beyond what was called the “Hill,”—an insignificant rise of ground crowned by trees, lying along the side of the road which ran by the gates of Dorlcote Mill… I ask you to imagine this high bank crowned with trees, making an uneven wall for some quarter of a mile along the left side of Dorlcote Mill and the pleasant fields behind it, bounded by the murmuring Ripple. Just where this line of bank sloped down again to the level, a by-road turned off and led to the other side of the rise, where it was broken into very capricious hollows and mounds by the working of an exhausted stone-quarry, so long exhausted that both mounds and hollows were now clothed with brambles and trees, and here and there by a stretch of grass which a few sheep kept close-nibbled. In her childish days Maggie held this place, called the Red Deeps,

From the images you can see the quarries that were there in Eliot’s day and the peaceful water where Tom and Maggie used to fish would be the arm of the Coventry Canal.

Dr Diane Duffy
Chair, The Gaskell Society

  1. Catherine A Middleton, ‘Roots and Rootlessness: An Exploration of the Concept in the Life and Novels of George Eliot’ in Douglas Pocock, Humanistic Geography and Literature (RLE Social & Cultural Geography) Essays on the Experience of Place (Abingdon:Routledge, 2014) pp 101-120, p 103-4.