Sunday, 6 June 2010

Gaskell's Knutsford

Knutsford, home of Elizabeth Gaskell, is currently holding a literary festival and we've been meaning to go to all half term. We went over this afternoon to look around the display at the heritage centre and also to visit the dissenters chapel in Brook Street where Gaskell is buried. The chapel , now a Unitarian Church, was one of the first institutions to benefit from the religious toleration act of 1689, which allowed greater freedom of religious expression and worship. However, dissenters did still face considerable prejudice and persecution, the Brook Street chapel was built with numerous doors and exits in case of attack, and someone we were chatting to told us that certain members of the local church are still very disapproving of there being a Unitarian Church in the town!


  1. May I say in the Name of the Father and of the Father and of the Father, that I think the Unitarian Church should be closed immediately?

  2. We'll expect a detailed summary tomorrow evening ;-)
    I used to work opposite the Chapel but, alas I never went in!

  3. It's fitted in quite well really...See you tomorrow evening, if you're able to come

  4. It is interesting to note how many of the Non-Conformists were also social reformers (Elizabeth Fry, Gaskell herself, Titus Salt, John Bright, The Tuke family – are a few that spring to mind). Perhaps it was their exclusion from certain aspects of society enabled them to observe the Industrialisation (or its effects) of society a good deal more critically than 'mainstream' members of society.

    Though it could be also argued that many of the creeds of the Non-Conformists were Enlightenment ideas (as could be said for Wilberforce or Charles Simeon’s Evangelical Anglicanism) imbibed with a Christian/Deist significance. Certainly the emphasis of the rights of the individual and individual salvation and relationship with God appear tinged with such thinking. If they were ‘Christian per se’ they would have appeared at other points in history and clearly they do not. Tho’ some Christians like to bore us with the misguided belief they are the originators of social conscious etc. when in Victorian England they crowded into the churches but were happy to allow their neighbours to work in squalor and ignorance. Something Gaskell took great pains to highlight in books like ‘Mary Barton’. A great figure.

    I am a great fan of Mrs Gaskell – though like Trollope and Dickens - a good literary editor could have cut the verbose prose by a good 30%!

  5. I think you are spot on when you say that the non conformists in some ways could "observe" mainstream society with a critical detachment. I've been reading "North and South" and the events of that novel are set in train by the dissent of Margaret's father. I think that issue of religious dissent frames the themes of opposing ("dissenting") views of class and social hierarchy that Gaskell sets out in the novel.