This is the first visit Margaret makes to a contact given the Hale family by a friend of her father’s. It turns out that the Thorntons are key to the industrial development of Milton, and Margaret is surprised that their house is so close to the factory that generates their wealth. They, on the other hand, see this as appropriate and aren’t perturbed by the noise and dirt emanating from the steam engines. The relationships between the southern, established Hales and the northern, new-rising Thorntons is the nub of the agrarian-meets-industrial story told so skillfully in this novel.
Worth mentioning also is the wonderful BBC dramatization of this novel, along with other Gaskell works.
‘Opposite to the wall, along which the street ran, on one of the narrow sides of the oblong, was a handsome stone-coped house – blackened, to be sure, by the smoke, but with paint, windows, and steps kept scrupulously clean.’
Source: Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South (London: John Murray, 1925), p. 130