The marriage between William and Margaret took place in 1803, two years before the birth of their first child, the Reverend William Gaskell in 1805. It is clear from the records that even if Margaret could read, which is doubtful, she could not sign her name. The extract below is a transcript from the parish registers copied by the Lancashire Parish Clerks Project which shows her signing with an X:
Marriage: 26 May 1803 St Mary the Virgin, Leigh, Lancashire, England
William Gaskell, Gentleman – Liverpool Parish
Margaret Jackson – (X), Spinster, Leigh Parish
Witness: Thos. Lees; Saml. Brabin
Married by Licence by: Danl. Birkett Vicar
However, in the portrait at the Elizabeth Gaskell House, Margaret is seen holding a letter and a magnifying glass, signifying an ability to read. It is likely that this portrait was painted after William senior’s death in 1819, as Margaret is wearing black possibly suggesting maturity and/or widowhood.
Once married, the family took up residence in Latchford, just across the river from the main centre of Warrington, where William was in business. Their seven children were baptised in Cairo Street Chapel and three are buried there. Reverend William Gaskell was Margaret and William’s eldest child, followed by Samuel in 1806 (the boys were born just eighteen months apart), Anne 1808, Margaret 1810, Lizzie 1812, Robert 1814 and John 1817. John’s birth came just two years before his mother became a widow. Margaret died when she was six, and John when he was only four. Within five years, Margaret Gaskell had lost a husband and two of her children.
William ruptured a blood vessel during the summer of 1818 and died the following year: he was just 42.  His brother Roger and cousin Holbrook carried on the business, as William’s children were too young – even William, the eldest, was only fourteen when his father died and had not completed his education.
He left less than £3,000 of which, John Chapple notes, he left £100 a year to his wife ‘in lieu of a dower (safeguarded from any future husband as usual) and the use of books and furniture for her lifetime’. Chapple also states that he left land and property, along with a steam engine inherited from his own father, Samuel, which was rented out until Samuel, his second son reached twenty –one when the boys would be given the option to purchase either singly or jointly.  The rest of the money was to be used by the trustees for the benefit of the children. This was stipulated as education or employment and the will did not discriminate between male and female children. The Unitarians were firm believers in equal opportunities for men and women.
Margaret Gaskell remained a widow for about four years before marrying the Reverend Edward Robinson Dimock (1797-1876) at St Elphin’s Parish Church, Warrington in 1823, the year after he had become the minister of Sankey Street, now Cairo Street Chapel. This time, as you can see from the parish church transcription, Margaret signed a name, so she had also learned to write by 1823:
Marriage: 6 Nov 1823 St Elphin, Warrington, Lancashire, England
Edward Robinson Dimock – This Parish
Margaret Gaskell – This Parish
Witness: Joseph Marriott; Ann Smith
Married by Licence by: Jonathan Topping Curate
Notes: [Bride Signed Dimock]
After the wedding, the couple took up residence at Chapel Place in Warrington.
Edward Robinson Dimock was born in Brandon, Suffolk in 1797 and trained at Wymondly Academy in Hertfordshire. A note from the Dissenting Academy records states that in 1822 he withdrew before completing the course, yet he became the minister at Cairo Street in Warrington that same year. When he married Margaret in 1823 she was 43 and he was seventeen years her junior. We know very little of their marriage only that Edward Dimock moved to Rivington briefly in 1841. On the 1841 census, Margaret is recorded as a visitor staying with her youngest son Robert. The address is not mentioned at this time, but his occupation is stated as a ‘farmer’. Ten years later an address at Ashfield on Thelwall Lane, Latchford is given for Robert and his family, again his occupation is given as farmer. Not so, however, in 1861 when he is living on Top Lane in Penketh; he is now recorded as a landowner with income. When he moved to Weymouth, Dorset shortly after 1861, he named his house Penketh. Robert died in 1898 at his daughter’s home in Mottram St Andrews.
Warrington is central to the Gaskell’s story and there is a myth extant that Elizabeth Gaskell’s son Willie died in Warrington on his way back from Wales. This is indeed a myth, as Willie definitely died in Porthmadog . All the details are recorded on the death certificate (see Gaskell Society Journal Vol. 13). But the child was buried in Cairo Street, so the body would have been brought back to Warrington from Wales. It is not unlikely that Elizabeth would have stayed with Robert at Ashfield.
When Margaret Dimock died in Warrington on 12 January 1850, she had not quite reached her seventieth birthday. She shares a large tomb with her first husband and two young children, Margaret and John. Another daughter, Anne Robson, is buried separately with her husband, another William and two boys, William Holbrook (1850 -1868) and Edwin (1851-1854).
In November 1850, Edward Dimock who was then 53, married Ellen Rothwell, seventeen years his junior. The couple were married in Preston in November 1850 and were living in Goosnargh near Preston in 1851. The following year they had a daughter, also Ellen, who is registered on the 1861 census. By this time, they had moved to Birkdale, Southport which is where Edward died in 1876. He was followed by his daughter in 1879 and his wife in 1880; they are all buried together in Duke Street cemetery, Southport.
If anyone reading this has any information that they can add to the story we would be pleased to receive it. Please email Diane Duffy. Barbara Brill , William Gaskell 1805-1884: a portrait (Manchester: Lit and Phil., 1984) p.  John Chapple, Elizabeth Gaskell: the Early Years (Manchester, MUP, 1997), p. 404.