Step Back In Time


Way back in 2013 Channel 4, a UK TV company, produced an excellent drama series called “The Mill”. Set in industrial England around about 1833 the historical drama, in four parts, showed life for workers at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire, based on the extensive historical archive of the mill.

Trailer for “The Mill”

Now owned by the National Trust, the mill, gardens, owners house and estate are open to visitors and I was there last week to take some photographs.

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As you can see from the photographs above and below, the mill is a rather large building. I was able to wander around 5 floors, photographing mill equipment, not all of it original, but in a lot of cases, still working.

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Right next to the mill was the owners house, a bright and airy building, with views over the gardens.

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Inside, the house is sparsely furnished. It’s not like any of the stately homes I have visited before

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Only the bottom floor is open to visitors but the volunteer guides make up for this with a wealth of stories about the family who lived in the house.

As an early pioneer of the factory system Samuel Greg built Quarry Bank Mill during the early years of the Industrial Revolution in England. In it’s heyday Quarry Bank Mill was the largest textile mill in the country.

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Note to self. Don’t attempt a panorama photograph with a wide angle lens. It doesn’t work and you can’t stitch the photographs together properly.

Samuel and his wife Hannah took their rsponsibilities to employees seriously and they built a model village close to the factory. Sounds good, but the sentiment was more about running the factory in as proficient manner as possible. Nevertheless it was a lot more than other employers were doing at the time.

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Each house had a parlour, kitchen and two bedrooms an outside privy and a small garden. Rent was deducted from the workers’ wages. Today, these houses form part of the village of Styal. You can walk around the village but just be aware of the Private Area notices that abound.

Back in the factory. there’s an amazing array of industrial machines devoted to the production of textiles from the raw material, cotton.

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The cotton goes through various stages of production in the mill before it can be used for making textiles.

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When they switch on the machines it’s noisy, very noisy.. warm as well. This machine moves backwards and forwards as it spins threads onto bobbins. I hope that’s what they are called. Here you can see it forward…

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….and now it’s back.

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This video filmed at Quarry Bank gives you some idea what it was like

Working days were long. The women who looked after these machines worked from 6am to 6pm and the factory wasn’t as well lit as this. It was dusty from cotton dust and with lots of moving parts it was all too easy to get their dress or some of their hair, remember in those days it would be long but tied up, caught in a machine. Records show that many accidents happened in the last two hours of the working day when people were tired.

Young children were also employed in the factory as apprentices. the smaller ones crawled under the machines picking up cotton waste. They had to be quick as there was no easy way of stopping the machines once they started..

If you look in the photograph below, right hand side, just above that large bale of cotton you can see the back of a child. Quarry Bank has regular visits from shool parties and here the children are being show in a safe area what those young apprentices had to do

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The material that is produced in the factory during demonstrations is now sold in the shop on site and goes towards the support of the National Trust and Quarry Bank Mill.

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Now this was a really noisy machine. The lady working it was wearing ear defenders and whilst she was talking to me I had trouble listening to what she was saying. The women who worked the mills were able to read lips using a form of speech called Mee-Mawing, which was a cross between mime and lip-reading.

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They could even have private conversations, performed by cupping their hands around their mouths. Mee-Mawers could communicate over tens of yards and very often the mill had it’s own dialect.

Originally the mill was powered by water and over the years there were 4 wheels installed each bigger than the previous one.

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When Quarry Bank was was restored in 1983, a 25 feet (7.6 m) diameter waterwheel was moved from another mill in Pateley Bridge to provide power for the machinery. I couldn’t get a decent photograph as the wheel is behind stained perspex in a dimly lit chamber with orange fluorescent lighting. It’s impressive though as it turns by the pressure of water.

The basement of the mill is devoted to power and here you can see a display explaining about later methods of keeping the machinery turning, including steam.

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You can also see one of the old steam boilers.

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Looks impressive but look athe length of it.

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Where that green wall is at the rear of the photograph is where I was standing to photograph the front of the boiler.

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There’s quite a lot to see down in the basement including two working steam engines but I was intrigued by some of the original foundations of the mill.

It was time to leave and visit the Apprentices House a short walk up the hill from the mill

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Quarry Bank Mill employed children, usually from the workhouse, as apprentices. At the beginning they mainly came from the areas of Hackney and Chelsea in London, but later they were from local parish or Liverpool poorhouses.

The apprentices worked long days and addition to their shift in the mill they then had to do schoolwork and gardening.

A superintendant looked to their care and morals and there was also a mill doctor to look after their health. Common complaints were cotton dust in the eyes and very often dust on the lungs.

The work was dangerous and accidents when they did happen, usually involved limbs, with fingers sometimes being severed by the machines.

Well that’s it from me. I hoped you enjoyed this short trip around Quarry Bank Mill. I could have included so many more photographs because it is a fascinating place and well worth a visit

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