Festival to focus on Knutsford women who have shaped history

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).


HOD Guest Post by Knutsford Promenades founder Sarah Flannery


Knutsford Promenades Founder and Chair, Sarah Flannery, has been featured in a Guest Blog Post on the Heritage Open Days website:

Sarah’s blog is reproduced below:

England’s biggest heritage festival – and why we love being part of it all!

Once again, my conservatory is awash with banners, balloons and stickers ready to roll out around the town of Knutsford. This is the third year that Knutsford Promenades, a small community association of volunteers who are mad about heritage and culture, has been the hub organiser for a multi-site, multi-event known locally as Knutsford Heritage Open Days.

Being part of the HODs family has transformed the town every September. Now that we curate a programme that showcases the town and its history, we get thousands of visitors who are keen to discover new stories.

We start with a theme

Not just any theme, of course. Our starting point is the national HODs theme. This is all the inspiration we need! In 2016, we presented Canute’s Crossing, a leap through 1,000 years of history with European links. In 2017, we presented Alan Turing and his legacy, based on the national LGTBQI theme and our own unique connection as the town where Turing’s court case took place. As one of four locations for #unsungstories, people still talk about our remarkable festival with Regina v Turing and Murray as its highlight, along with support from the likes of ‘Judge’ Rob Rinder and Sir Dermot Turing. This year, it’s Extraordinary Women and once again, we have a winning combination of well-known and hidden histories to present.

We have lots of coffee

Our first meetings are very creative! My approach is always ‘if there’s a will, there’s a way’ so we start with a big vision and see how far we get. Luckily, we have built up a huge number of wonderful partnerships, sponsors, volunteers and contacts who are brilliant at making things happen.

We have local Extraordinary Women…

We were so excited when we were told that this year’s HODs theme was Extraordinary Women with put her forwardas the Unsung Stories commission. Knutsford was novelist Mrs Gaskell’s blueprint for Cranford; she lived in the town from infancy until her marriage and is buried here, with her husband William and two of her children.  Alison Uttley, another grande dame of English literature, also lived in Knutsford, so that got me thinking…

…connected by a train line?

Our community rail partnership launched a booklet called Amazing Women by Rail that features historical women who hail from towns along the Mid-Cheshire Line, from Chester to Manchester. It’s a cultural powerhouse! Mary Fildes (Peterloo Massacre) to Emmeline Pankhurst via Elizabeth Raffald, Mrs Gaskell, Helen Allingham and many others. So, I thought, why not commission a piece of community theatre that interweaves their stories with one of the performances taking place on the very train line that connects them?

Introducing From Station to Station

So this year we have a festival of talks, walks, hidden gems and historic sites about local women who’ve shaped history, with a new community production as our centrepiece. From Station to Station is a literal journey through time, space and imagination: Mrs Gaskell and Alison Uttley meet face to face in the modern world, due to a ‘time slip’ – an idea inspired by Uttley’s book ‘A Traveller in Time’. The props represent the women and their towns and were created by local communities. Two performances take place in Knutsford; one on the 1102 from Chester to Manchester; and one at Manchester Piccadilly.

Add Eccles cakes, a brilliant artist, Charlotte Brontë…

What other festival combines so many strands? As well as our extraordinary women, we’re featuring unexpected links between Alison Uttley and Charles Tunnicliffe RA, Elizabeth Raffald and Eccles cakes, Mrs Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë and much more – Heritage Open Days is a gloriously eclectic mix! Check out or the national event directory for full details.