‘The Mill’ Revisited (or actually visited this time)


A mill that was once rural countryside in Cheshire is now right next to the Manchester Airport (you literally take the airport exit to get there).  Here lies Quarry Bank Mill, which was the partial topic of one of my very first blog posts.

I know it might seem a bit redundant (or uninspired) to revisit a blog topic so early into my blogging adventure (5 months), but two things: here I’m focusing on the reality side of Quarry Bank Mill, and I really like the Industrial Revolution.  It was one of my favorite things to teach about when I taught both US History & World History II in Northern Virginia, and December was usually the time of year that I would start it.

Our flight to Copenhagen was very early in the morning, so we decided to spend the night in a hotel at the airport.  Prior to checking into our hotel, we made a stop at Quarry Bank Mill, operated by the National Trust (to which we belong).  Quarry Bank was a large mill for the time, which means that now that it is no longer a working mill they have ample space for machinery demonstrations, and exhibits with; information on the industrial revolution, cotton trade, slavery, the Gregg family, and the mini-series based on the mill.

While most people associate the Industrial Revolution with urbanization (and it is), it started in the countryside.  For one, there was the Enclosure Movement and landowners consolidated their lands and evicted tenants; as well as the fact that most early factories in the late 18th century (woolen or cotton) needed to be located in the countryside along rivers for energy.  It is after the spread of steam power in the mid to late 19th century that allowed factories to be moved to cities.

This is why Samuel Gregg decided to establish Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, along the River Bollin.  The river drove the mill’s water frame engine and northern England’s network of canals allowed for easy transportation to both Liverpool and Manchester.  Liverpool was a major international shipping port, and Manchester the center of Britain’s cotton trade (laying the foundation for the cities’ rivalry today).

England’s textile production originally focused on wool, but the mass production principles of spinning and weaving wool can similarly be applied to to cotton.  What is often over looked in the story of England’s textile production are two things: 1) that England learned a lot of it’s cotton production techniques from it’s early trade with India. and 2) that production of cotton products in the UK was initially met with a lot of resistance.  While cotton is easier to care for and more affordable, it was was met with resistance from the woolen industry who push Parliament to ban the importation of cotton from India (but it could be manufactured in Britain).

The mill covers the cotton industry from the late-1700s to today, as well as it’s connection with the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  But the primary focus of the mill is on technological development (from cottage industry to mass production) and treatment of its worker force.  About a third of the mill’s labor force came from its apprentices; children from area parish orphanages, or city workhouses, whose care was given over to the Gregg family where they worked for lower wages in exchange for their care and a limited amount of education.

The exhibits devote a lot of time to Samuel Gregg’s wife Hannah and the work that she did teaching the apprentices and caring for the ill in the village.  The apprentice houses is located just up the hill from mill and is open to the public by guided tour.  The time of our arrival, and tour of the mill, did not allow us to make a tour of the apprentice house, but given the material contained in the exhibitions it probably went something like this: “Apprentices lives were tough, but the Gregg’s were a fair family who refused to employ corporal punishment and weren’t as exploitative as many mill owners were painted during the Industrial Revolution.”

The 20th century brought leaner times for Quarry Bank, which finally ceased all production in the 1950s.  The photo gallery below contains pictures of some of the exhibits are quarry bank.  This is partly how I ‘take notes’ to remember things later, but I’ve also included in case fellow teachers would like to use the pictures in their lessons.

About Leslie@myfoodhistorytravelblog

Hey! I'm an American living in the UK with a passion for food, history, and travel. You can follow my experiences at myfoodhistorytravelblog.com (not a creative title - but you know what you'll be getting).
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