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BBC Cranford drama puts Knutsford on the map

PUBLISHED: 23:09 16 November 2009 | UPDATED: 18:34 21 October 2015

Lisa Dillon as Mary Smith, Eileen Atkins as Miss Deborah, Judi Dench as Miss Matty, Imelda Staunton as Miss Pole
Photographs: BBC Pictures

Lisa Dillon as Mary Smith, Eileen Atkins as Miss Deborah, Judi Dench as Miss Matty, Imelda Staunton as Miss Pole Photographs: BBC Pictures

The town's own Gaskell expert Joan Leach is both delighted and a little cross at the new adaptation of the Cranford novels

Francesca Annis is Lady LudlowFrancesca Annis is Lady Ludlow

KNUTSFORD may have been snubbed as the location for the new BBC drama Cranford which ran on BBC1 last year, but it is still no bad
thing for the town on which the Elizabeth Gaskell novels are based.

So says Joan Leach, local historian and honorary secretary of the Elizabeth Gaskell Society, although she has a few reservations about the series which stars a stellar cast of British actors.

'The BBC originally intended to call it the Cranford Chronicles and I'm a bit cross with them that they've now called it Cranford when it's a combination of three of her books, only one of which is called that.
'Because of this they have had to use a bit of artistic licence and the scriptwriter, Heidi Thomas, has had to write in material just to marry up the storylines of Cranford,My Lady Ludlow and Mr Harrison's Confessions.'

Cranford has been a long time coming to the small screen. 'It was first proposed five years ago,' explained Joan. 'They were lucky to have completed it before all the cutbacks were announced.'

The BBC came to check out Knutsford as a location, but dismissed it as too modern. 'Manchester Airport were hardly going to stop flights for filming and the one place they could have filmed, the ballroom at the Royal George, has gone now,' says Joan.

Even though Laycock in Wiltshire was chosen as the filming location, researchers consulted Joan and other staff at the Heritage Centre on life in the town around the time of the novels, including historical documents, pictures and accents.

Just before the series hit the small screen, visitors to Knutsford's Literature Festival were treated to a visit by the scriptwriter plus a twelve-minute DVD of clips of the series.

Copies of Gaskell's novels have been flying off the shelves at the town's Heritage Centre and it is hoped that in the near future there will be an exhibition of costumes and props from the series.

'Even though Knutsford wasn't used as a filming location, I think people will still want to know about its connection with Cranford and Elizabeth Gaskell. It is widely known that she was married here and is buried here, so the series can only do the town good.'

Joan's latest book is Knutsford: A History, published by Phillimore and available from the town's Heritage Centre

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