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Medieval Styal was a thriving agricultural community with its own cattle market. Whilst agriculture was the main income for the community, textiles has always been part of community life here in Styal, and provided an additional source of income.
Women and children worked at home to produce buttons for Macclesfield silk manufacturers. They also spun jersey, which was a mixture of cotton and wool, for the Yorkshire wool merchants. When Samuel Greg built the Mill in the late 18th century, he relied upon this local source of labour.
As Quarry Bank expanded, Samuel had to attract more workers and did so with the promise of housing at Styal, and to begin with he converted two barns into cottages. In 1806, the first purpose-built cottage was erected and by 1815 Samuel had spent approximately £1,000 on building works. A further £6,000 was spent between 1815 and 1819, some of which was used to build the Oak Cottages, which were two double rows of terraced houses with their own allotments and privy. The village of Styal was highlighted as a model of paternalistic care by commentators of the time. Compared to towns where there was a scarcity of fresh food and clean water, and whole rows of houses shared a privy, Styal village provided a much higher quality of life.
The village today
Styal is still a thriving village community today; however the people live very different lives from their ancestors, as a glimpse at the 1861 census for the village shows. In the areas of Oak Cottages, Farm Fold, Shaw’s Fold and Holt’s Lane there were 88 households compared to less than 60 today, with 440 residents where today there are nearer 150.
Unlike many of its contemporaries the village is still a living community with 60 tenanted cottages, two active chapels, a thriving primary school and a working dairy farm all within the original buildings. Even though the buildings are now privately owned you can still enjoy the architecture of the village which provides insight into the feel of the worker’s lives.