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24 September 2014

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You are in: Manchester > Entertainment > Arts, Film and Culture > Arts and Literature > The real Cranford

Cranford starring Dame Judi Dench

Cranford stars Dame Judi Dench

The real Cranford

For Cranford, read Knutsford. Elizabeth Gaskell, gifted novelist and champion of the working classes, wrote in detail about the town she knew in three of her novels which have been adapted for BBC One. And it's not all that complimentary...

Elizabeth Gaskell

Born: London, 29 September 1810

Died: Holybourne, Hampshire, 12 November 1865

Wrote 11 novels, including North and South, Mary Barton, and Wives and Daughters

Children: one son and four daughters

Cranford is the latest TV adaptation of the work of Elizabeth Gaskell. It follows the hugely successful productions of Wives and Daughters (2000), North & South (2004) and the stage adaptation of Mary Barton at the Royal Exchange in 2006.

This new TV costume drama stars Dame Judi Dench, Sir Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton and Philip Glenister and tells the real story of 19th Century Knutsford based on Gaskell’s memories of growing up there.

Image from Manchester Archives & Local Studies

Elizabeth Gaskell

It’s actually based on three of her novels: Cranford, My Lady Ludlow and Mr Harrison's Confessions and follows the small absurdities and major tragedies in the lives of the people of Cranford during one extraordinary year.


So what was 19th Century Knutsford – or Cranford – really like?

Cranford in the 1840s is a small Cheshire market town on the cusp of change. The railway is pushing its way relentlessly towards the town from Manchester, bringing fears of migrant workers and the breakdown of law and order.

"I think Gaskell was interested in exploring change, how individuals cope with it. What is it that gives a community its glue?"

Susie Conklin, Cranford creator

Co-creator Susie Conklin says: "The fear of what the railway will bring is a big theme. There are worries about the navvies, and what they might do. There is a crime theme that is quite comic, but the fears the characters have are real enough to them. There is darkness too – lives are cut short and one of the big overall themes is lost love.

"I think Gaskell was interested in exploring change – how individuals cope with it; how a community copes with it. What is it that gives a community its glue?”


Knutsford has actually changed more than Mrs Gaskell could ever have imagined. So much so, the TV drama was actually shot in  the National Trust village of Lacock in Wiltshire.

But what was it about this sleepy Cheshire town that influenced Gaskell so strongly?

Filming of Cranford

Filming of the period drama Cranford

Raised in Knutsford by an aunt, Elizabeth married William Gaskell (also a minister in the Unitarian church) in 1832 and settled in Manchester for a life of motherhood and church obligations. However, all that changed when her only son died.

As a Unitarian, she believed in education for all, and she found herself identifying with the poor and wanted desperately to express their hardships. Which was what drove her to write.

Cranford is essentially a satire on the efforts of Knutsford's Cheshire set to keep up appearances, based on Gaskell's girlhood memories of growing up there.

Whether the people of Knutsford will be so proud of Gaskell, after watching Cranford, remains to be seen.

Cranford, starts on Sunday 18 November on BBC One.

last updated: 19/11/07

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