The Gaskell Society

The Gaskell Society

Celebrating the life and work of Elizabeth Gaskell

Diane Duffy continues her investigation into the lives and families of William Gaskell’s parents. See also Margaret Gaskell.

The Gaskell family had originated in Upholland where the records go back to the beginning of the seventeenth century. Cairo Street Unitarian Chapel (formerly Sankey Street) was their place of worship from the late seventeenth century, although baptisms, marriages and burials were carried out in the parish church until the mid-nineteenth century, as all dissenting religions were deemed outside the state church and their ceremonies were therefore illegal.  This is why Elizabeth Stevenson and the Reverend William Gaskell were married at St John’s Church, Knutsford in 1832, rather than in Brook Street Chapel. There are often duplicate records, where families have used the parish church for legal reasons and their own chapel for personal reasons. This happens frequently at Cairo Street.

The stem of the Gaskell family that is of significance to us is that from William Gaskell and Alice Ashall, who married in in 1698/9. Their burial record is one of the earliest held in Cairo Street Chapel.  They were the Reverend William Gaskell’s, great-great grandparents, and it is from their eldest son that our branch of the family stems.  Their grandsons Samuel and his brother Roger Gaskell, along with their sister Elizabeth are crucial to this story. [1]

Samuel was the Reverend William’s grandfather. He married Ann Woodcock in 1757 while his brother Roger married her sister, Esther in 1761. It was Samuel’s son William, baptised at Cairo Street Chapel in April 1777, who became the husband of Margaret Jackson in 1803. William was in the sailcloth business with his brother Roger and his cousin Holbrook (who was Roger and Esther’s  son). The businesses were all in Warrington.

Liverpool Old Dock. Picture credit: Liverpool Record Office, Liverpool Libraries

Yet, because the family had become so large (most marriages produced upwards of six children), it spread over a wide area. There was Warrington on the eastern edge with Hindley and Burtonwood to the north, Appleton to the south and Liverpool to the west. In 1757, Samuel’s sister – another Elizabeth Gaskell –  married Rowland Hunter, a Liverpool mariner, master of a vessel called Diligence. His ship had brought corn and groceries into Liverpool only four days before his marriage to Elizabeth.  Thus Rowland Hunter and the Gaskell family became interconnected by marriage. But the marriage records also suggest a friendship. Rowland was witness at Samuel’s marriage to Ann in 1757 and Roger was a witness at Rowland’s marriage to Elizabeth four months later. [2]

Rowland and Elizabeth had nine children. Their son Roger (1764-1837) became a sailcloth manufacturer in Liverpool and his daughter Ann married back into the Warrington Gaskells in 1809, when she married William senior’s cousin, Roger.  After their marriage, Roger and Ann also lived in Liverpool and their son Holbrook was born in Wavertree in 1813, thus the links between these families grew ever stronger. Roger Hunter was thirteen years older than William and in the same manufacturing business; Roger had premises in Tabley St. Liverpool, the major port at the turn of the nineteenth century. Given the connections, it is quite likely that these two commercial enterprises were linked.  Roger’s house was in Seel Street, as listed in the 1824 Liverpool Directory.

Intermarriage and commerce formed strong bonds between these families, as did religion. Unitarianism, as a dissenting religion, meant that most of its members married within their own religious group and the Gaskells were no exception.  Moreover, many of those buried in Cairo Street Chapel have links with families in Renshaw Street Chapel, formerly Benn’s Garden Chapel in Liverpool. This is where Roger Hunter is buried. The Minister of Benn’s Garden Chapel at that time was the Rev. John Yates whose son, Richard Vaughn Yates, married Sarah Mills. Her family were  Unitarians from Cairo Street. Richard Yates had many connections with the Gaskell’s which are perhaps emphasised by the fact that in 1848, Ann Gaskell, the wife of William’s cousin and business partner, Holbrook, left Yates a legacy in her will. The links between these groups are many and complex, but what is clear is that they were very close-knit.


[1] I have confirmed six out of a possible nine so far.

[2] Manchester Mercury 28 June 1757