was assisted in his peregrinations with a
stick and a crutch.
The fish sold in Knutsford used to
be brought hither by coach, and Jeremy
on the morning of its arrival used to
do his rounds shouting out the kinds
of fish to be purchased at Frederick
Moult's, while the boys added their
" Frederick Moult has fish to sell,
And Jeremy Low goes round with his bell.
The number of those who remember
Knutsford as it was before the railway
was opened up from Altrincham to
Northwich, and when Chelford verily
was " Chelford for Knutsford," is rapidly
diminishing, and we fear some of the
"characters" of that distant time are
gradually being forgotten.
The one we wish to revert to has
claims upon our attention which we are
unwilling to pass over. He was a silk
weaver who had seen more prosperous
times for the people of old Knutsford.
His father lived at that quaint cottage,
which was afterwards occupied by old
John Hough, at the junction of Adam's
Hill and King Street, where now stands
a huge station wall, and opposite to
which, on the site of the parochial
school (now disused) and the lecture
hall, stood eleven cottages. These cot-
tages were demolished in 1829, some of
the old bricks being used in the building
of the parochial school in 1830. Aa
ancient photograph which we are fortu-
nate enough to possess shows the front
of old Hough's house, next to which was
an outhouse, used at one time as a
cooper's workshop, and before that as
a weaving shop, while, facing a row of
seven (out of the eleven cottages), stood
It was in this weaving shop that
Tommy Witter used to work at his loom,
when he was sober. A small sliding
door was the means of communication
between the house and the shop, and
many a time has old Betty Witter pushed
aside the door to see if her ne'er-do-well
son was at work or not. Her husband
(old George) looked after the cattle and
did odd jobs about the town, while
she herself looked after the home — and
Tommy ; for, though he did not live at
home for some reason, he worked at
home, lodging in a cottage hard by.
They were getting on in years, being
born respectively in 1769 and 1765; and
in 1842 old George, who had survived
his Avife three years, was laid to rest in
the parish churchyard. It was in vain
we looked for Tommy's tombstone. He
who had written so many epitaphs for
pints of beer, and had composed verses
and sung songs for a like remuneration,
was laid to rest by the parish. But we
do not wish to bring him to mind on
account of his " toping " propensities,
but because he was a clever rhymster,
and because his verses, such as we have
seen, will give to the younger generation
a pretty good idea of the Knutsford of
long ago, when (he tells us in a poem
which was written about the time) it was
thought that the railway would be laid
down, and that it would be the means of
opening up trade.
" Seventy years with me have passed away,
Great changes in that time I've seen
In this little town of Knutsford,
Where I was born and still remain."
[" Remain," by the way, must be pro-
nounced '■^ revuen,'' just as the Cheshire
native talks of " teeters " and " pleets."]
" I can remember well the day,
When in wages there was paid
Near three hundred pound per week,
Then in the town we had good trade.
Five cotton mills were running then,
A great deal of thread was made ;
A poor man with his family
For his labour then was paid.
To make this an independent town
They would banish the cotton trade ;
A great man pulled the factories down,
And a great mistake he made.
Now Knutsford men and men of Knutsford,
Let us hope the worst is past ;
We shall have a trade when the railway's
And that time is approaching fast."
This, like four other poems we have,
was printed on cards and circulated, and
probably sold at a small charge. There
is nothing very polished about his verse,
but it is homely, and he tells his story in
a straightforward way. When old John
Eden, who had been the sexton at the
parish church for many years, met
Tommy, he was told right away what his
epitaph should be : —
" Here lies the body of Eden John,
Who in his time had buried many a one ;
Rejoice ye young men in his fall,
For, if he'd Uved, he'd a-buried you all."
His facility in verse-making must have
been hereditary, for we find that old
Joseph Witter, of Toft, who was born in
1 71 5, and died at the age of eighty in
1795, left as his epitaph : —
" Farewell, my wife and children dear,
Whilst here you do remain,
The Lord of Hosts be your defence
Till we shall meet again."
In 1845 he wrote a poem of six verses,
which is as good as anything we have seen
of his. It is entitled : " On the lamented
death of Miss Egerton. Died November
loth, 1845, aged 21 years." Two verses
will suffice to show its quality : —
" Death hath stepped on the hearth with so
rapid a stride
That none thought his shadow was nigh ;
He had sought out a victim, and found one pre-
And has borne her in triumph on high.
But to sorrow is mortal in those left behind.
And who witness her premature flight ;
To see one so young, and so gentle and good,
Pass away like a dream of the night."
Another " In Memoriam " was written
in 1853. This was "In Memory of Mrs.
Egerton, of Tatton Park, who died Feb.
28th, 1853, aged 74 years. Interred in
Rostherne Church, March 7th." This
also contains six verses, but we will give
the first and last, which will indicate the
" Death has been, and borne away
The widows' and orphans' friend ;
With a generous heart her bounty
To the poor she did extend.
And, speaking of " Her aged partner left
behind " :—
" God be his shield and comforter ;
His life's short journey through ;
And may the good that she has done
Be always kept in view."
The next card we take up contains
seven verses, but it is this time on the
occasion of a marriage : " Lines on the
Marriage of the Honourable Meriel War-
ren, to Allen A. Bathurst, Esq., M.P."
The railway has done a great deal in
opening up the country to the influences
of the town, but at the same time it has
done a good deal also in breaking down
many of the simpie manners and customs,
and has been the means of introducing a
new element which has been a disturbing
factor in the relations between the cottage
and the Hall. We regret the Httle we
have lost, but gladly accept the large
balance of gain. But to the marriage !
The metre in this poetical effusion —
we were going to say poem — is like
Tommy Witter himself, unsteadier than
formerly ; but here are a few of the
verses, rugged as they are : —
" On the thirtieth day of January,
In eighteen hundred and sixty-two ;
It was the joyful wedding-day —
The marriage ceremony was gone through.
In that ancient chapel in Tabley Park,
Some hundreds there were met.
For to witness a procession
That they will not soon forget.
It was the second daughter
Of that noble line, De Tabley ;
We trust the bride and bridegroom
May for ever happy be.
Her virtue, wit, and charity meet —
All her merits we do admire ;
To crown the whole, to be complete,
To relieve the poor it is her desire."
The last card is entitled " Free Trade
and the Railway," and among ten verses
are the following : —
" In Ashley, Mobberley, and Knutsford,
Stations there will be made ;
We hope and trust from Manchester
We shall have commerce and trade.
The poor of Cheshire for many years.
They have greatly been distress'd ;
For want of trade they are paupers made.
And ratepayers are much oppress'd.
When this line is made there will be trade,
As to coals you will have plenty —
For the starving poor brought to his door,
You will never find them scanty."
The next verse is singularly appro-
priate to our own time : —
" The town of Knutsf ord you soon will see
With water well supplied ;
An advantage for both rich and poor,
Whate'er may be their wants beside."
In March 1862, Knvitsford seems to
have been thoroughly roused by what
appears, at this distance of time, a very
small matter. George Gallop, the then
governor of the prison, had daughters
who were said to be very haughty, and
who it was alleged behaved in a very
giddy way in church. One Sunday they
were reproved by the curate from the
pulpit by name, and immediately left the
Mr. Gallop protested in a poster headed
• Public Notice," a tattered copy of
which we have seen, and in which he
said he had reported the whole matter
to the bishop of the diocese, who pro-
mised to investigate the unjustifiable and
outrageous proceeding of the Rev. D. S.
Spedding. The curate, however, had
the sympathies of the people, by whom
he was much beloved ; and Tommy wrote
several counterblasts, from one of which
we quote : —
" It had been rumoured for many a da}^
These young ladies were very unsteady and
In church laughing, talking, reading, and
Which to the curate was very vexing.
So one Sunday morning he mounted the
Gave out the text and then (he could not help
Said he, ' I'm sorry to see Miss Gallops doing
But this has been continued sadly too long.' "
Two lines from another declare : —
" For when the truth the bishop comes to know
He will not wish our minister to go."
Tommy was a curio we thought worth
preserving. Drunken he was, no doubt,
especially in his later years, but he pos-
sessed qualities which made people re-
cognise him as the village poet, punster,
and wag, and who can say that he had
not a work to do in the world ?
IS KNUTSFORD THE ORIGINAL
OF "CRANFORD" ?
Into such a place as we have described
entered Mrs. Gaskell, brought hither as
a baby. Knutsford was the home of her
childhood and early youth, the place in
which she was married, the place she
regularly visited from her home in Man-
chester ; and it contains the ancient
chapel, in the graveyard of which her
mortal remains were buried.
It is generally believed to be the
original of " Cranford," and there is
something to be said both for and
against this view. It is just as likely
to be the " Buncombe " of " Mr. Har-
rison's Confessions," the " Hollingford "
of " Wives and Daughters," the " El-
tham " of " Cousin Phillis," the " Hamley "
of "A Dark Night's Work," and the
" Barford "^ of " The Squire's Story." In
any case we think it is pretty certain that
her Knutsford experiences were woven
into the fine texture of these and other
' There is a Barford near Warwick. Mrs.
Gaskell would hear this name while at school at
The Rev. Henry Green, M.A., in his
" Knutsford: Its Traditions and History,"
published in 1859, says : —
" There is one work of hers, ' Cran-
ford,' which in my judgment, while
depicting life in almost any country
town, is especially descriptive of some
of the past and present social character-
istics of Knutsford. I know that the
work was not intended to dilineate this
place chiefly or specially, but a little
incident within my own experience will
show the accuracy of the pictures as
applied to our town. A woman of
advanced age, who was confined to her
house through illness about three years
ago, asked me to lend her an amusing or
cheerful book. I lent her ' Cranford,*
without telling her to what it was sup-
posed to relate. She read the tale of
' Life in a Country Town,' and, when I
called again, she was full of eagerness to
say, ' Why, sir ! that *' Cranford " is all
about Knutsford. My old mistress, Miss
Harker, is mentioned in it ; and our
poor cow, she did go to the field in a
large flannel waistcoat because she had
burned herself in a limepit.' For my-
self I must say that I consider ' Cran-
ford' to be full of good-natured humour
and kindliness of spirit."
It would appear that there is here
some show of reason for holding the
belief that Knutsford is the original of
Also the writer of a notice in the
" Record of Unitarian Worthies " begins
by quoting the words used by Mrs.
Gaskell in her estimate of Charlotte
Bronte as a novelist, viz.: "She went
to the extreme of reality, depicting char-
acters as they had shown themselves in
" These words," continues the writer,
"are equally applicable to herself; for
seldom have characters been more truly
drawn, or scenes in common life more
graphically described than by her pen."
There seems to be no doubt in this
writer's mind as to Knutsford being the
original of " Cranford." " In that quiet,
old-fashioned little town, among the good,
unsophisticated people to whom she in-
troduces her readers in her story of
' Cranford,' she spent her early life.
Her relations attended the quaint Presby-
terian chapel which stands in the suburbs ;
with that chapel, which she describes
in * Ruth,' her earliest recollections
must have been connected."
Again in " Celebrities of the Century "
(1887) Mr. T. Hall Caine says: "It
is easy to see from whence came the
incidents that chiefly brighten her pages ;
they came out of her own life. And
what she gives of personal experience is
always the best she has to offer."
Regarding originals we will here quote
what Edna Lyall says in her "Sketch
of Mrs. Gaskell," which we shall refer
to later :—
" How far the characters in the novels
were studied from life is a question
which naturally suggests itself ; and Mrs.
Holland (a daughter of Mrs. Gaskell)
replies to it as follows : ' I do not think
my mother ever consciously took her
characters from special individuals, but
we who knew often thought we recog-
nised people, and would tell her, " Oh,
so and so is just like Mr. Blank," or
something of that kind ; and she would
say, "So it is, but I never meant it for
him." And really many of the characters
are from originals, or rather are like
originals, but they were not consciously
meant to be like.' "
On the other hand, it is well to re-
mind people like the Honourable Mrs.
Tollemache, who said in an article en-
titled " Cranford Souvenirs" in Temple
Bay for August 1895 : " But though I
never met Mrs. Gaskell I have known
the original of at least one of her char-
acters, and heard my mother speak of
others," that Mrs. Gaskell was too great
a writer to sit down and deliberately copy
either people or places. But this has
already been very nicely expressed by
Mrs. Ritchie in the preface to the illus-
trated edition of i8gi : "This power of
living in the lives of others and calling
others to share the emotion does not
mean, as people sometimes imagine, that
a writer copies textually from the world
before her. I have heard my father say
that no author worth anything deliber-
ately and as a rule copies the subject
before him. And so with Mrs. Gaskell.
Her early impressions were vivid and
dear to her, but her world, though col-
oured by remembrance and sympathy,
was peopled by the fresh creations of
her vivid imagination, not by stale copies
of the people she had known." Mrs.
Gaskell never consciously drew from life.
and repeatedly said so. It is only
natural, however, to expect that many
of the early scenes, and events, and
places, should have been indelibly im-
pressed on her memory, and that they
should afterwards have appeared, though
dressed in a different garb, in her many
stories. Whether this be so or not, it
is interesting to be able to point to many
strange coincidences. For instance, the
ancient Brook Street Chapel (built i68g,
in which Matthew Henry has many times
preached), with its graveyard, is pro-
bably the model from which the des-
cription of Mr. Benson's chapel in " Ruth "
was drawn ; or to put it in another way,
the one which was present to her mind
when she described Mr. Benson's chapel.
Indeed, there is no other chapel which
so nearly answers to the description,
though Dean Row and Macclesfield,
built about the same time, are somewhat
"It was built when the Dissenters were
afraid of attracting attention or observa-
tion, and hid their places of worship in
obscure and out-of-the-way parts of the
towns in which they were built. Ac-
cordingly it often happened, as in the
present case, that the buildings immedi-
ately surrounding, as well as the chapels
themselves, looked as if they carried you
back to a period a hundred and fifty
years ago. The chapel had a picturesque
and old-world look, for luckily the con-
gregation had been too poor to rebuild
it or new-face it in George the Third's
time. The staircases which led to the
galleries were outside, at each end of
the building, and the irregular roof and
worn stone steps looked grey and stained
by time and weather. The grassy hil-
locks, each with a little upright headstone,
were shaded by a grand old wych-elm
(in reality a sycamore).^ A lilac bush or
two, a white rose tree, and a few labur-
nums, all old and gnarled enough, were
planted round the chapel-yard ; and the
casement windows of the chapel were
made of heavy-leaded, diamond-shaped
panes, almost covered with ivy, producing
a green gloom, not without its solemnity
within. The interior of the building was
plain and simple, as plain and simple
could be. When it was fitted up oak
1 This sycamore, which was one of the interest-
ing features of the graveyard, being dead, was
removed in August 1903.
timber was much cheaper than it is now,
so the wood-work was all of that des-
cription, but roughly hewed, for the
early builders had not much wealth to
Standing a little distance from the
chapel is Brook House, which tradition
says was the home of the Hon. Mrs.
Jamieson; and if it be kept in mind that
what is now a garden at the front of the
house was in the old day an open space,
it will be found to exactly correspond
with the description given of it in
" Cranford." " That lady lived in a
large house just outside the town. A
road, which had known what it was to
be a street, ran right before the house,
which opened out upon it without any
intervening garden or court. Whatever
the sun was about, he never shone on
the front of that house." This is where
that wonderful story about puss swallow-
ing the lace was so inimitably told by
In the parish church, built in 1744,
Mrs. Gaskell was married in 1832, the
Dissenters then being unable to marry
in their own chapels. Church House, just
outside the parish churchyard, was the
home of Mr. Peter Holland,^ surgeon, the
father of Sir Henry Holland, Bart., M.D.,
F.R.S. (1788 to 1873), and grandfather
of the present Lord Knutsford. It is
believed by many old inhabitants that the
character of Mr. Gibson, in "Wives and
Daughters," was suggested to Mrs. Gas-
kell by her acquaintance with Mr. Peter
Holland, whom she used to accompany
on his rounds. We can only add that
Miss Gaskell says : " No two people could
be more unlike than Dr. Gibson and Mr.
Holland." The old Cann Office on the
Heath, where weights and scales at one.
time were tested, is now covered with
ivy. Here lived Edward Higgins, the
highwayman, information concerning
whom may be found in the Rev. Henry
Green's book already referred to. (See
also De Quincey's ""Highwayman.")
The story of Higgins is reproduced in
Mrs. Gaskell's extremely well-written
story, " The Squire's Tale."
Not far from this is the house in which
Mrs. Lumb lived, with whom Mrs. Gas-
kell spent her childhood and early youth.
This is a tall red-brick house (facing the
1 Peter Holland, of Knutsford, surgeon, was
born 3rd June, 1766, and died igth January, 1855.
heath), and it has been considerably
altered since that time. The old school,
up to a very recent date used as a girls'
school, just outside the entrance gates of
Cumnor Towers (now the residence of
Earl Egerton of Tatton), may be that
described in " Wives and Daughters," in
which Miss Cynthia took so great an
"The countess and the ladies, her
daughters, had set up a school, not a
school after the manner of schools now-
adays — where far better intellectual
teaching is given to the boys and girls
of labourers and workpeople than often
falls to the lot of their betters in worldly
estate — but a school of the kind we
should call ' industrial,' where girls are
taught to sew beautifully, to be capital
housemaids, and pretty fair cooks, and,
above all, to dress neatly in a kind of
charity uniform devised by the ladies of
Cumnor Towers — white caps, white tip-
pets, check aprons, blue gowns, and
ready curtseys, and * please ma'ams '
being de riguetir."
The Royal George Hotel, where the
visitor is charmed by " the shining oak
staircase and panelled wainscot, the old
oak settles and cupboards, Chippendale
cabinets, and old bits of china," and its
County Assembly Room, mentioned in
several novels, and the house at the top
of the George Yard— a public thorough-
fare leading from one street to the other
— said to have been used by "Miss
Matty " as the shop in which she sold
her tea, and from the window of which
(the said window now being built up)
she threw "comfits" to the children—
these are two of the oldest Cranford
houses now recognisable.
I . " The surgeon has his round of thirty miles and
sleeps at Cranford. ' '
The surgeon of Knutsford in ' ' Cranford ' ' times
was Mr. Peter Holland, whose daughters were
Miss Lucy and Miss Mary Holland.
Mr. Bernard Holland, in " Letters of Mary
Sibylla Holland," says that "Aunt Lucy " and
*' Aunt Mary " were sometimes alleged to have
served Mrs. Gaskell as the models of Miss Matty
and her sister.
There were no doubt certain resemblances.
Miss Lucy Holland certainly did wear a very large
muff, which often used to contain more than
her hands. On many occasions an old friend of
ours remembers Miss Holland bringing potatoes,
which were then very dear in price, as a gift
which the poor appreciated, hidden away in her
2. Mrs. Gaskell refers to the ladies of Cranford
being quite sufficient "for rushing out at the geese
that occasionally venture into the gardens if the gates
are left open ; for kindness (somewhat dictatorial! to
the poor, etc."
At that time the Heath was quite open, the
fences having been placed round and trees planted
during recent years, and many of the old inhabi-
tants kept geese which wandered about in flocks
on the Common, the name by which the Heath is
still generally known.
3. The story of the Alderney cow and the
limepit is quite true. Miss Harker lived at what
is now Mr. Pass's shop in Princess Street, where
it is alleged Miss Matty kept her little tea shop,
and the limepit was along the Northwich Road,
and in front of what is now the Grammar School.
There were a number of pits along that side of the
Heath, one of them being known as the Colonel's
pit. We heard of a man who once fell into this
particular pit, which was about the largest. He
was far from sober when he got in, but the cold
douche seemed to bring him round rather rapidly,
so that when he was asked by a person, who was
attracted to the spot by the vigorous splashing,
what he was doing there, he wittily replied that he
was on his way to Lower Peover Church to sing
bass against so and so, and wanted to get a deep
The pit being beside the highway, and
unfenced, it was an easy matter on a dark night to
In most of the Cheshire fields there are pits,
which are much too useful for watering cattle
to be filled up by the farmer. They were made
before the days of chemical manures, when marl
was dug out and spread upon the land together
with natural farmyard manure and lime. Later
again guano and bone manure took the place of
marl, and the pits gradually filled with water, and
in many cases were stocked with fish by the
4. Lord Mauleverer stayed at the Angel Hotel,
which, not far from the Royal George Hotel (with
County Assembly Room attached), still stands in
5. The SA/r^L^^f spoken of in " Cranford" must
be MinshuU Street.
6. The Benefit Society for the Poor, which Deborah
and her mother had started, is still in existence.