Researching Heroes of Adventure
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Researching the history behind our exhibition ‘Heroes of Adventure’ was a labour of love carried out by a small research team. There was Ally, our Collections and Archive Officer, Jennifer, our Property Operations Manager, and me, Laura, the Property Operations Assistant.
We began our research back in the summer of 2013, taking several trips to Cheshire Record Office, where a lot of the material relating to the Greg family in the First World War is kept, including many of the letters of Arthur Tylston Greg, a few of his belongings, and a couple of scrapbooks; one compiled in Arthur’s memory, the other kept by Margaret Greg during her time as a VAD nurse in France. Then we delved into the archive at Quarry Bank searching for stories of the workers.
It is from Arthur’s letters to his parents that we began to piece together his story, and watched him grow through the War from an optimistic, somewhat naïve boy, into a courageous, battle hardened man. Before we began our research, we knew that Arthur and Marian had been engaged but knew nothing of their love story, and were anxiously scouring Arthur’s letter for any mention of Marian’s name. The mystery was solved when we visited Arthur’s niece, Margaret Fowler, (Helen’s daughter) who filled in the missing pieces for us.
The letters relating to Bobby are rather scarcer, but Margaret Fowler was kind enough to allow us to borrow her huge collection of her mother’s letters from the war, including the last letter Bobby ever wrote. It had us all in tears as we read of Bobby’s unwavering loyalty to his men and country, and his homesickness.
Madge and Helen
Madge’s scrapbook proved an absolute treasure. It contained sketches, postcards and photos from her time as VAD nurse, but also acted as her diary, recording the thousands of men she tended to, and the sombre details of life as a nurse on the front line. Helen’s letters were similarly useful, and the sisters saved countless lives.
Our research into the workers was more difficult. We knew that a man named Edward Cooper had served in the War as well as his cousin Alfred Sprowson. We scoured the Mill Memorandum, the business records, wage books, and maintenance ledgers for any mention of their names, and whilst we were unable to piece together exactly what happened to them during the War, we found out their importance to Quarry Bank Mill. We also spoke to Alfred's great-nephew who informed us about the events leading up to Alfred's death.
It was a brilliant few months delving into the lives of these amazing people, and being able to uncover their stories and share them has been a real privilege.