Historians have disputed the origins of the name Knutsford, but there is an ancient and popular explanation.

Canute was the King of England from 1016 to 1035, and his name in Old Norse was Knútr. After one of his victories, King Canute crossed the brook known as Birken, and the village became known as ‘Canute’s ford’, later to be changed to Knutsford.

The Domesday Book gives it some credence by calling it ‘Cunetesford’ (Canute’s Ford).

Over the years, Knutsford became popular and affluent with the many wealthy families who settled in the vicinity.

In the late 1800s, Richard Harding Watt arrived with his money and love of Italian architecture; he used his wealth to build, among other buildings, the Gaskell Memorial Tower in memory of the town’s famous author Elizabeth Gaskell.

So today, we will look at the life of the famous Knutsford author.

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell. jpg

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell was born in Lindsay Row, Chelsea, on September 29, 1810 (this house still exists as 93 Cheyne Walk, London).

She was the youngest of eight children, and only she and her brother John survived infancy.

Her mother died 13 months after her birth. As a result, the young Elizabeth was brought up by her aunt Hannah Lumb, her mother’s sister, who lived in Heathwaite House, Heathside, Knutsford.

The name originated from the small heath that ran alongside the road.

Knutsford Heath itself was on the other side of Northwich Road from the small heath.

As a tribute to the famous author who lived there, the road was renamed Gaskell Avenue after her death.

Home of Mrs Gaskell.

Her older brother John visited her regularly at Knutsford but joined the Merchant Navy and served with the East India Company; he was lost during a voyage to India.

From the age of 11, she went to boarding school in Stratford upon Avon.

An accomplished and famous author, she loved Knutsford and depicted the town in her fictional novels, one name being Cranford.

With Knutsford being the setting for Mrs Gaskell’s books, many of the older properties will have been used.

This house on the edge of the graveyard is now a shop premises, but Mrs Gaskell used it in her novel Wives and Daughters.

Hollingford House in Wives & Daughters

It was depicted as Hollingford House, the home of Dr Gibson, father of Molly, in the small town of Hollingford. This was Mrs Gaskell’s last novel.

She was married in 1832 to William Gaskell, an assistant minister in Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester.

She grew up in Knutsford but moved to 42 Plymouth Grove, Manchester (now No 84) with her husband William, a Unitarian Minister, author, and campaigner on behalf of the poor.

She gained an impressive circle of friends, including Charlotte Bronte (whose biography she wrote), John Ruskin, Florence Nightingale, and even Charles Dickens was an associate.

Among Mrs Gaskell’s best-known novels are Cranford 1851 to 1853. North and South 1854 to 1855, and Wives and Daughters in 1865. All were adapted for TV by the BBC.

Mrs Gaskell died suddenly of a heart attack while negotiating a house purchase in Holybourn, Hampshire, on November 12, 1865; she was aged 55 years.

King St & Gaskell memorial tower

She is buried with her husband and two daughters in the graveyard at nearby Brook Street Chapel, Knutsford.

Further on from Mrs Gaskell’s house is the home of the famous Edward ‘Squire’ Higgins, Highwayman (Who Mrs Gaskell fictionalised in her book The Squires Tale).