Sandlebridge and Elizabeth Gaskell

Sandlebridge Farm, also known as Colthurst House, was owned by the Holland family, one of whom, Samuel Holland, was the grandfather of the novelist, Elizabeth Gaskell.

She spent some of her childhood at Sandlebridge and the farm features in her novels, Cranford and Cousin Phillis.

The house, demolished in the 1960’s, had according to local historian, Alan Dale, a stone above the front door bearing the date 1704.

 

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Due to the house’s connection to Mrs Gaskell, detailed descriptions of the building and it’s surroundings remain as documentary evidence, which bring the few black and white photographs we have, into full colour.

 

John Chapple’s detailed work, “Elizabeth Gaskell: The Early Years”, brings together some interesting descriptions of the house in its early years.

Mary Robberds, wife of the Rev John Gooch Robberds who was the minister of the Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, often spent school holidays at Sandlebridge due to family connections, and described it as “a fine large old house covered in front with a vine”.

As Chapple recounts from her letters:

“It had a flower garden, and in front was a grass court sloping down to a lane in which stood great oaks and elms. Behind was a kitchen garden, at the side a little garden with bee hives. A sand heap where children could play without making frocks dirty was a favourite place. In the yard there was a pump and poultry and a pigsty; beyond these were the dairy for butter and cheese and a farmyard, where they could see calves being fed and cows milked.”

Perhaps, most charming are her descriptions of playtime at the house.  In her words:

 

“When it rained there was plenty of amusement in the house. Besides playing at ‘I spy’ there was a game called shuffleboard in the dining room or houseplace where we generally sat…

Then as I said the old house was a capital place for playing hide and seek, for there were two staircases and different ways into the rooms, to hide in. There were two clocks on in the house place, which struck the hours very quickly, the other on the staircase which struck so slowly that it was said that a man might go to sleep and have a dream between the first and last stroke of twelve.”

Taken from Recollections of a Long Life, the memoir of Mary Robberds

 

Colthurst House

 

A sketch of the house, thought to have been done by local historian Alan Dale.

 

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The above three photographs of the house exterior and of the kitchen fireplace are taken from:

“Mrs Gaskell and Knutsford” by Rev. George A.Payne.  1900. and edited.

A letter written by Gaskell to a family member in 1836, whilst staying at Sandlebridge, also paints an incredibly vivid picture, as she invites the recipient to imagine the place she is sitting as she composes the note:

 “My dearest Lizzy,

 I wish I could paint my present situation to you. Fancy me sitting in an old fashioned parlour, ‘doors & windows opened wide’, with casement window opening into a sunny court all filled with flowers which scent the air with their fragrance – in the very depth of the country – 5 miles from the least approach to a town – the song of birds, the hum of insects the lowing of cattle the only sounds – and such pretty fields & woods all round. .. I do so wish you were here to revel in flowers, & such through country We are up with the birds, and sitting out on the old flag steps in the very middle of fragrance, far from the busy hum of men, but not far from the busy hum of bees…

There are chickens, and little childish pigs, and cows and calves and horses, and baby horses and fish in the pond and ducks in the lane, and the mill and the smithy, and sheep and baby sheep and flowers …

I sat in a shady corner of a field gay with bright spring flowers -daisies, primroses, wild anenomes and the lesser celandine, and with lambs all around me, and the air so full of sweet sounds…”  

Taken from The Letters of Mrs Gaskell, Manchester University Press, 1997, Letter 4, 12 May 1836

Anne Ritchie, a close friend of Mrs Gaskell’s daughters, wrote almost sixty years later:

“The old house stands lonely in a beautiful and tranquil place, with a waving prospect of fields and shady trees and hedges, reaching to the hills which rise in the far distance…Sandlebridge is now given up to a farmer; a pretty flagged stone path leads up to the front door.  

There used to be two brick pediments with balls at the garden gate.  Years ago, so long ago that the great Lord Clive was only a schoolboy in Knutsford at the time (his mother was a Gaskell and had connections in the place), he used to come over to spend his half holidays at Sandlebridge, and his pleasure was to jump across from one stone ball to the other, to the great danger of his legs and arms.  Here too in later times, as we have said, Mrs Gaskell used to come as a little girl, and play with her cousins and gather flowers from the garden.  There was a great bed of saxifrage, which may still be there, it was always her favourite flower.

The old house is now dismantled, but one or two things still remain out of its past;  among others are the fine old wooden chimney-pieces in the front parlour, one within the other, so it seemed to me, and the old shuffleboard.  A shuffleboard is an immensely long table, standing on legs of shining oak with many drawers and cupboards underneath.  There are hardly any left anywhere now.  They were once used for a game which consisted in jerking heavy counters form one end to the other of the shining board, and trying to keep your own and to throw your enemy’s over the side of the table…”

Taken from Cranford with preface by Anne Thackeray Ritchie, 1891. London

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