Sue Birtwistle found out about the novel Cranford after finishing another project. Despite liking it immensely, she felt it wasn't enough to create a drama series, so she read more of Elizabeth Gaskell's other material, and came up with the idea of adapting three of Gaskell's novellas into a BBC Drama series; hence Cranford. The three novels were "Cranford", "Mr Harrison's Confessions" and "My Lady Ludlow." Birtwistle and her co-creator Susie Conklin spent several weeks in Birtwistle's apartment in New York, using color coded cards to piece the stories together. When writer Heidi Thomas came on board, she mentioned that they had married off someone twice.
Judi Dench had read the novel 'Cranford' at school, and when a neighbor lent her the book, she was vividly reminded of Gaskell's writing. She stated that she hoped that this television adaptation would "make people want to read her."
Jenny Beavan and Sue Birtwistle found designing the costumes a challenge because the original author had been very detailed, but both cited how much fun they and the actors had when it came to fitting. Eileen Atkins was reported to have put on a pair of boots that were somewhat masculine and stated that they made her know what her character would feel like. Atkins also wore costumes that were a few years out of fashion to the date of the story, because it was felt that her character wouldn't have bought her own clothes, and been frugal with her expenditures. Greg Wise and Julia Sawalha both also started liking wearing costumes, with the former stating that the restraint improved acting, and Sawalha saying she loved dressing up, joking that that the costumes were the "simple and shallow" reasons she liked period dramas.
Heidi Thomas stated she "adored" writing about Miss Pole, saying she "lived inside her". Imelda Staunton, who played the character, said that her character's story and that of Julia McKenzie's were interwoven with the other major characters.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
When Eileen Atkins won a BAFTA in 2008 for her portrayal of Miss Deborah Jenkyns in Cranford, she jokingly said in her acceptance speech that she would come back to haunt the cast and crew if a second series was made, because they had killed off her character early in the first series (Cranford: August 1842 (2007)). During filming of the second series, Judi Dench who played Deborah's sister Miss Matty Jenkyns arranged for a life-size cutout photo of Deborah to appear on the railway platform where a scene was being shot, and it became a tradition after that to take photos of the cast with this cutout of Deborah wherever filming was taking place.