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Abbey to honour Cranford’s creator

Friday, 8th January 2010

Abbey to honour Cranford’s creator

Elizabeth Gaskell, whose novel Cranford formed the basis of one of the BBC’s prime-time television drama successes, will be honoured with a memorial in a window panel in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said:

I was approached by the Gaskell Society some time ago, asking that Elizabeth Gaskell, might be commemorated in Poets’ Corner. After careful consideration, I decided that her name should be added to a commemorative window in Poets’ Corner and agreed to dedicate the memorial around the time of the bicentenary of her birth.

Elizabeth Gaskell, who published first anonymously but later simply as Mrs Gaskell, wrote North and South as well as Cranford, both of which were adapted to become award-winning Sunday evening television dramas on BBC1.

She was supported by Charles Dickens, whose grave lies just a few feet away from the Poets’ Corner window where her memorial panel will be installed.

The dedication of the memorial window panel to Elizabeth Gaskell will take place after Evensong on 25th September 2010.

Elizabeth Gaskell was born Elizabeth Stevenson on 29th September 1810 at Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. Her father, William Stevenson, had been a Unitarian minister in Lancashire but moved his family to London when he became a civil servant. Much of Elizabeth's childhood was spent in Cheshire, where she lived with her aunt Hannah Lumb in Knutsford a town she would later immortalise as Cranford. She also spent some time in Newcastle where she met and married William Gaskell, another Unitarian minister. Gaskell's first novel Mary Barton, was published anonymously in 1848. The best known of her remaining novels are Cranford (1853), North and South (1854), and Wives and Daughters (1865).  She became popular for her writing aided by her friend Dickens, who published her work in his magazine Household Words. Elizabeth Gaskell died in 1865.

Poets’ Corner in the South Transept of Westminster Abbey is known throughout the world as the resting place of men and women who have dominated the arts. Geoffrey Chaucer as Clerk of the King’s Works at Westminster was buried there. Centuries later, when he was recognised as one of the first great English poets, other poets and writers began to be buried or memorialised near him: including Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson, Macaulay, Tennyson, Browning, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy. Other more or less well-known figures are buried or memorialised in the South Transept. The composer George Frederick Handel is buried there. Most recently the ashes of Lord (Laurence) Olivier were interred there, near other actors.

The Poets’ Corner window on the South Transept’s east side was unveiled in 1994 as a memorial to Edward Horton Hubbard, the architectural historian. Since then panels have been added to commemorate Alexander Pope, Robert Herrick, Oscar Wilde, A.E. Housman, Frances Burney and Christopher Marlow.

Decisions on burials and memorials are made by the Dean of Westminster for the time being, acting alone, normally in response to approaches from interested parties.

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