As winter approaches, Cranford is beset by sorrows and struggles to regain confidence.
Dr. Harrison's housekeeper, Mrs. Rose, discovers a leg of mutton has been stolen from the kitchen window on the very same night that Mr. Johnson, the owner of the town's most important store, is mugged. The ladies decide that a crime wave has hit Cranford.
Mr. Johnson, meanwhile, becomes convinced that Job Gregson, the local ne'er-do-well, must be his attacker and Job is arrested. Job's son, Harry, decides to make a confession to Mr. Carter of his own part in the poaching to save his father from transportation and has to bear the acute disappointment that Mr. Carter feels. Mr. Carter pleads Job's case with Lady Ludlow, saying that without her intervention, Job will be found guilty and the Gregson family will starve. Lady Ludlow is immovable — the Gregsons are not her responsibility.
Christmas arrives and Cranford huddles together to celebrate, though the town has been so buffeted by events that it feels strangely unsure of itself. An invitation for Matty arrives from Mr. Holbrook, asking her to visit him on his farm. Miss Pole and Mary urge her to accept, and they accompany her on what turns out to be a delightful — and hopeful — day for Matty.
Meanwhile, Dr. Harrison confides in his medical school friend, Jack Marshland, about his love for Sophy. Jack encourages him to send her some Valentine flowers. But Jack, a perpetual prankster, has set up some mischief by sending a Valentine card to Caroline Tomkinson as if from Dr. Harrison, hinting at marriage. Caroline is ecstatic and eagerly awaits Dr. Harrison's proposal.
Matty suffers great disappointment and, in a nostalgic mood one evening, decides to confide in Mary about Mr. Holbrook, and how things were put asunder by a trick played by her younger brother, Peter, who then ran away in disgrace to India and has not been seen since.
The mention of India prompts Mary to write to Major Gordon to tell him that Jessie regrets her decision not to marry him, since her father is now so busy at the railway works he really has no need for her.
Dr. Harrison visits the Rectory and formally asks the Rev. Hutton for permission to court Sophy. He promises he will propose as soon as he is able to provide a home for her.
At an auction, Dr. Harrison bids for a small table. When he gets it home, he discovers it is a sewing table so suggests his housekeeper, Mrs Rose, might like to use it. To Miss Pole and Mrs. Forrester, this is tantamount to a proposal. Gullible Mrs. Rose believes them and allows them to dye the grey out of her hair. They convince her that Dr. Harrison will propose on May Day.
Miss Tomkinson, meanwhile, becomes concerned by Caroline's fretful waiting on Dr. Harrison to proclaim his love, and decides to draw him out on the matter.
Preparations for May Day excite everyone in the town, and there are high expectations of the day. Dr. Harrison looks forward to the first time he will be able to be with Sophy openly as a couple. The whole town gathers on the Heath.
Jem and Martha marry and live as lodgers in Matty's house — a source of joy for Matty.
Miss Pole invites the ladies of the town to a secret meeting to discuss Matty's crisis. United in their love for Matty, they decide to secretly share part of their own incomes with her. Mary is recruited to devise a means of getting this to Matty without her knowing where it came from.
Dr. Harrison, on the other hand, is shunned by the town — no patients will come to him now that he has been exposed as a philanderer. Dr. Morgan suggests he must move on to start afresh.
Mr. Carter is horrified to discover that Lady Ludlow has secretly mortgaged her estate to raise money for her son's villa in Italy, and knows what pain such an unfathomable mortgage has cost her personally. He confronts her and there is a heated exchange.
Sophy returns to Cranford ill, but is diagnosed by Dr. Morgan as simply being heartbroken. He assures Rev. Hutton that, with time and love from her family, she will recover. By the time Jack Marshland arrives in town to help clear Dr. Harrison's name, Sophy's condition has worsened and she is diagnosed with typhoid fever. He enlists Mrs. Rose's help in treating her, while Dr. Harrison is physically barred from either seeing Sophy or assisting.
Mr. Carter visits Captain Brown at the railway works in a desperate attempt to see if he can raise capital for Lady Ludlow's mortgage by selling timber or tools. While he is there, disaster strikes and the injured are taken to Dr. Harrison's for emergency treatment. As Sophy's condition deteriorates, her young sisters defy their father and ask Dr. Harrison for help. But has the call come too late?
2 years ago