Article originally published in The Knutsford Guardian 26.8.18

Knutsford Promenades and its Knutsford Heritage Open Days programme returns from Thursday, September 6.

Now into its sixth year, the annual multi-site, multi-event heritage and culture festival continues to break new ground.

The community association has teamed up with Heritage Open Days and Mid-Cheshire Community Rail Partnership to put on a festival of community theatre, talks and walks, displays, hidden gems and historic sites about local women who have shaped history.

“The national Heritage Open Days theme is Extraordinary Women and we’re celebrating two former Knutsford residents, the writers Elizabeth Gaskell and Alison Uttley, with a range of themed events,” said Sarah Flannery, chairman of Knutsford Promenades.

“We have two very significant keynote presentations, one on Alison Uttley and one on Charles Tunnicliffe, her favourite illustrator.

“Fans of Mrs Gaskell will really enjoy events such as Mrs Gaskell’s Picnic at Tabley House; a special talk at Brook Street Chapel on how Mrs Gaskell’s famous biography of her friend Charlotte Bronte came about, supported with artefacts from the Whitfield Collection; a rare opportunity to visit her childhood home; the chance to see where she got married – and a copy of her marriage certificate – at St John’s Church; and Miss Matty’s Tea and Talk.

“While fans of Alison Uttley will enjoy the keynotes, the opportunity to see her former home The Old Vicarage, and an exclusive ‘collection encounter’ of the highlights of her extraordinary archive at John Ryland’s Library in Deansgate.

“Our local Extraordinary Woman, Joan Leach, is also remembered through the special ‘Joan Leach’s Walks’ around town.”

Amongst the other free-to-attend events on offer is a tour of Marble Arch, the Ruskin Rooms with its special display of Modern Extraordinary Women, Gertrude Bennett at Knutsford Methodist Church; Tabley House’s ‘Women of Significance’ exhibition about three exceptional Leicester women and an art workshop by the artist Nick Thompson who created the ‘Amazing Women’ illustrations.

One of the highlights of the festival is the specially-commissioned performance piece From Station to Station.

Developed in collaboration with Mid-Cheshire Community Rail Partnership’s Amazing Women by Rail project, the play imagines a meeting between Elizabeth Gaskell and Alison Uttley in the modern world, interwoven with ‘appearances’ by other Amazing Women such as Mary Fildes, Elizabeth Raffald, Helen Allingham, Charlotte Bronte and Emmeline Pankhurst.

The inspiration came from one of Alison Uttley’s most famous novels A Traveller in Time, which is based on the idea of ‘time slips’.

“One of the most exciting things to emerge from our collaboration was the possibility of showcasing Knutsford’s Amazing Women, Elizabeth Gaskell and Alison Uttley, with many others who have lived in towns connected by the Mid-Cheshire Line,” said Sally Buttifant, officer for the Mid-Cheshire Community Rail partnership.

“It quickly developed into an opportunity to highlight these genuinely amazing women and their legacy right across mid-Cheshire to Manchester and complement our Amazing Women by Rail project, which is about getting people to use the train to explore local attractions and enjoy marvellous days out.”

As a result, From Station to Station will be performed twice in Knutsford, at Brook Street Chapel where Elizabeth Gaskell is laid to rest alongside her husband William and two of their children and will also be performed on the train from Chester to Manchester – literally linking communities – with a finale at Manchester Piccadilly railway station, attended by the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Cllr June Hitchen.

The props and mobile scenery reflecting the women and their towns has been devised by artist Russell Kirk and produced at a series of community workshops arranged by Knutsford Promenades and funded through key towns, councils and BIDs along the line. The professional musicians are led by Clare ‘Fluff’ Smith and the play has been researched, written and directed by Steven Downs, who wrote last year’s Regina v Turing and Murray.

Sarah said: “Knutsford Promenades is all about bringing our local heritage and culture to life and encouraging visitors to explore our wonderful town.

“We know from past experience that around 50 per cent of visitors come from outside the area.

“From Station to Station has truly engaged communities along the line. And when it’s performed at Manchester Piccadilly in front of the Lord Mayor of Manchester, supported by Knutsford’s Mayor and representatives from the other key towns, we hope we will have achieved our aim of showcasing Knutsford’s amazing women and their connection with the rich cultural powerhouse of women who have shaped history right along the Mid-Cheshire Line.”

All events are free to explore but some need to be pre-booked (some places are still available).