Gaskell Family Papers

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 GFP
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      4 series; 182 items. Paper unless otherwise stated.
  • Location
      Collection available at The John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The collection relates to the estate of Ann Gaskell, widow of Holbrook Gaskell (1771-1842), who died at her home at Prospect Hill at Appleton, Warrington, on 12 April 1849. The bulk of the material deals with her legacies and the resultant business transacted by the various trustees and executors, and includes accounts, legal papers, letters and receipts. There is a smaller quantity of material relating to her late husband, Holbrook Gaskell, who died on 27th January 1842, and business relating to his estate and executors.

Although the papers commence in 1809 with the marriage settlement of Ann Gaskell in 1809, the bulk of the material relates to the period following Ann Gaskell’s death in 1849 until c.1890. Despite trust business taking up most of the subject matter of the collection, the content of the batch of letters, written mainly by John Dakin's son, Roger (b. 1846), includes many items of family news. Details of the accounts are found in the ledgers, bank books, stock and share certificates, sold notes and dividend warrants; various small bills and receipts for household expenditure, rents and taxes 1847-1849 give an insight into the more everyday expenses in the earlier period.

Amongst the executors/trustees was the deceased’s nephew, the Rev. William Gaskell (1805-1884) of Manchester, Unitarian minister, education pioneer and husband of novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. His brothers, Robert and Samuel were also trustees, as was his second cousin, John Dakin Gaskell, until his death in 1864. The archive, however, does not contain any papers relating to Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell.

The collection will be of use to family historians, and also of interest to local and social historians of the period, particularly on account of the local (Warrington) tradesmen's bills and receipts, and the notebook recording proceeds of the sale of the contents of Ann Gaskell’s house at Prospect Hill in 1849.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Gaskell family hailed from Warrington, where various family members were engaged in the town’s thriving sailcloth manufacture. This particular trade had brought much prosperity to the town since its introduction in the 18th century, as it furnished the Navy with much of it heavy sailcloth requirements, using imported Russian hemp and flax landed at Liverpool and subsequently transported by river to the Warrington manufactories.

Samuel Gaskell, (1733?-1813), is described in his will as a sail, canvas and cotton manufacturer, with premises in Buttermarket Street, a property called the Croft and a weaving shop in Foundry Lane, Warrington. The family was somewhat prolific, Samuel being one of nine children. Members of the family lived in the Warrington area, including the once fashionable area of Latchford. The Warrington Gaskells were long associated with the Sankey Street Unitarian Chapel, and the family was active in local affairs, with a propensity towards education. Samuel had three sons, namely Samuel, Roger and William; it was the latter’s eldest son, William (1805-1884), who was to become Unitarian minister at Manchester’s Cross Street Chapel and the husband of novelist, Elizabeth Gaskell (née Stevenson).

In addition to three sons, Samuel Gaskell had a daughter, Ann, who married her cousin, the Warrington merchant and sailcloth manufacturer, Holbrook Gaskell (1771-1842) on 21 July 1809 at the town’s parish church of St Elphin. Holbrook was one of the four sons of Samuel's brother, Roger. Holbrook and Ann lived at Prospect Hill, a large house within Appleton, to the south of the town. It was Ann Gaskell’s death in April 1849 which precipitated the business contained in this collection of papers, dealing with the execution of her various legacies. With no issue of the marriage, the main beneficiaries were Ann’s nephews and nieces, and ultimately their offspring; family friends and servants were also remembered, including old servant Elizabeth Lawton, who received an annuity of £10. Amongst the nephews and nieces feature the above-mentioned Reverend William (1805-1884) and his siblings, and the barrister John Dakin Gaskell (d. 1864), second cousin of the latter and great-nephew of the earlier Samuel Gaskell (1733?-1813).

The Reverend William Gaskell and his wife, Elizabeth, had one son, William (b. 1844; died in infancy), and four daughters, Marianne, Margaret Emily (Meta), Florence Elizabeth and Julia Bradford. William's (second) cousin, John Dakin Gaskell, had sons Roger (b. 1846), Walter Holbrook, who became a doctor, Ernest Holbrook, plus daughters, Mabel and Mary (d. 1888). These second cousins feature in the papers as legatees of trust monies.

John Dakin, the Reverend William and his brother Robert, along with Dennison Naylor of Altrincham, were executors of Ann Gaskell’s will, in addition to having legacies and responsibilities in respect of that part of Ann's late husband's estate over which she had exercised authority. The house itself had been bequeathed to her late husband's nephew, the industrialist and plant collector, Holbrook Gaskell (1813-1909). The three cousins were also trustees of monies, invested in various stocks and shares, for the benefit of their issue. On the death of John Dakin Gaskell in August 1864, Samuel (b. c.1807), doctor, and brother of William and Robert, replaced John as trustee, thereby putting all three brothers in control of the trust estate. From 1873 John Dakin’s son, Roger, became a trustee. William was replaced on his death in 1884 by his son-in-law, Edward Thurstan Holland; that same year, Walter Greg was appointed as a trustee.

Managing the accounts and trust monies was an onerous task; John Dakin suggested to his cousin, Robert, that the latter keep a ledger, which is believed to have been started in October 1850 (or possibly earlier). According to one of his letters, John's son, Roger, admitted to finding the account keeping difficult when he became a trustee in 1873.


The papers in the box were stacked, some in bundles, in three approximate piles with additional material placed on the top. On initial sorting the original order of the bundles was maintained, but as some of these appear to have been grouped together somewhat randomly, the contents have been re-arranged within the order given below. As it was not feasible to separate the activity and functions of each of the various executors and trustees, the collection has been arranged in four series, reflecting the different creators or spheres of activity, which appear to be distinguishable. The third series, comprising letters, has been further divided into three sub-series, namely, letters to Robert, Roger and William Gaskell respectively.

  • GFP/1: Holbrook Gaskell papers, 1809-1872;
  • GFP/2: Executors and trustees of Ann Gaskell, 1813-1890;
  • GFP/3: Letters, 1864-1890;
  • GFP/3/1: Letters to Robert Gaskell, 1867-1890;
  • GFP/3/2: Letters to Roger Gaskell, 1890;
  • GFP/3/3: Letters to William Gaskell, 1864-1873;
  • GFP/4: Financial records: ledgers, bank books, share certificates and miscellaneous receipts, 1824-1890.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

It is not known how or when the box came to be in the possession of the library.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The collection was originally stored in an old tin chest, known in the family as the ‘executors’ box’. It was used to store the various financial, legal papers and letters connected with estate business transacted by the various executors and trustees of Ann Gaskell (d. 1849). Ann Gaskell's executors were her nephews John Dakin Gaskell (d. 1864), the Rev. William Gaskell (1805-1884) of Manchester, Unitarian minister and husband of novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, his brother Robert (b. 1814), a tanner, who later removed to Weymouth, and Dennison Naylor.

On the death of John Dakin Gaskell in August 1864, Samuel (b. c.1807), doctor and brother of William and Robert, replaced John as trustee, thereby putting all three brothers in control of the trust estate. From 1873 John Dakin’s son, Roger, became a trustee. William was replaced on his death in 1884 by his son-in-law, Edward Thurstan Holland; that same year, Walter Greg was appointed as a trustee.

From a note in the 1850 ledger, it appears that Robert Gaskell (b. 1814), aided by his first cousin, John Dakin Gaskell, had a part in unravelling some of the complex income accounts, some of which were contained on scraps of paper. John Dakin suggested to Robert that the latter keep a ledger, which is believed to have been started in October 1850 (or possibly earlier). John's son, Roger, undertook account keeping when he became a trustee in 1873; a note found amongst the papers suggests that Roger received the box at the beginning of May 1873, but according to comment made in a letter to William around the same time, he did not find the task easy.


No accruals are expected.

Related Material

The John Rylands Library holds other archive collections relating to members of the Gaskell family, most notably the Elizabeth Gaskell manuscript collection (Eng MS 726-734, 876-877), which includes lettters to Elizabeth (1810-1865) and the Rev. William Gaskell (1805-1884) (Eng MS 730-731). Letters and notes relating to the doctor, Samuel Gaskell (1807-1886), may be found in the Library's Manchester Medical Collection (MMC/2), and a small collection of letters from the Rev. William's daughters, Julia Gaskell (1846-1908) and Meta [Margaret Emily] Gaskell (1837-1913) are amongst the Papers of T. F. Tout (TFT/1/401 and 402). Other relevant material, in particular relating to the Rev. William Gaskell, may be found amongst the Library's Unitarian College Collection (, whilst the Notes of Sermons by William Gaskell (Eng MS 1332) contain a contemporary observer's notes of a few of the minister's sermons.


Barbara Brill, William Gaskell 1805-1884: A Portrait by Barbara Brill (Manchester: Manchester Literary and Philosophical Publications, 1984).