Elizabeth Gaskell and Tatton Park
The major 19th century novelist on Tatton’s doorstep: Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell 1810-1865
Orphaned as a very young child, Elizabeth Stevenson, later Gaskell, grew up with her aunt Hannah Lumb in Knutsford, the market town next to Tatton Park. She was later to marry the local Unitarian minister, William Gaskell.
The social details and atmosphere of Knutsford were to find expression in her novels, particularly Cranford (1853) and her late masterpiece, Wives and Daughters (1866) where it is the model for Hollingford.
It is in the latter novel that Tatton Park appears as Cumnor Towers, the home of the Cumnor family, where its function as the centre of aristocratic privilege and influence exactly mirrors the relationship between Tatton and Knutsford that Mrs Gaskell had grown up with and observed first – hand.
The first chapters of the novel describe the annual garden party for the local people at the great house as seen through the eyes of a young girl, Molly Gibson, and very much suggest the Tatton that can still be experienced today:
"But she lost all consciousness of herself by-and-by when the party strolled out into the beautiful grounds, the like of which she had never even imagined. Green velvet lawns, bathed in sunshine, stretched away on every side into the finely wooded park; if there were divisions and ha-has between the soft sunny sweeps of grass, and the dark gloom of the forest-trees beyond, Molly did not see them; and the melting away of exquisite cultivation into the wilderness had an inexplicable charm to her."(Wives and Daughters, Chapter II)
For any lover or student of English Literature, a visit to Tatton can be an invaluable enhancement to their understanding of the context in which a major writer worked. For further information, visit the Elizabeth Gaskell Society website.