Scenes of smog-choked, impoverished northern English towns struggling through the grind of industry and poverty are thankfully a thing of the past.
However, the image of the “grim north”, a region defined by the industrial revolution, has endured, been reclaimed and is now worn proudly as a badge. We northerners are a breed born from the ashes of industry, defined by hard work and the forgers of our own futures.
It’s thanks to the likes of creatives, painters and writers such as Elizabeth Gaskell that the breakneck development of our cities in the 19th century was so well-documented.
One of the lesser-mentioned Victorian novelists, Gaskell’s books are no less poignant and readable than those of her peers with connections to the north – Thomas de Quincey, the Brontes or Lewis Carroll.
Just south of Manchester city centre and a stone’s throw from the university district lies Gaskell’s former family home.
The house is an essential stop on any literature pilgrimage, having hosted Dickens and other friends of the author down the years.
It’s also a tale of triumph. When I moved to Manchester in 2003, the house was neglected and sadly uncelebrated for its significance.
Fast forward 14 years and the building sits restored in its former sandstone glory, thanks to the dedicated Manchester Historic Buildings Trust and a host of benefactors.
Gaskell’s House is unmissable for anyone with an interest in literature, the arts and the unique history and development of the “grim” north of England.