Flooding and repairs

Workers at the weir

Quarry Bank utilised water power far longer than most other mills who favoured the reliability of steam. Exploiting a raw, cheap power source in this way should save a huge amount of money compared with the price of coal and cartage, but what about the cost of repairs?

Mill manager Sam Henshall calculated in 1856 that the use of water power was saving around £280 in coal each year. Certainly in theory, using water power saved a huge amount of money, requiring steam only as a supplementary source. Coal was expensive and Quarry Bank’s position away from the collieries of Greater Manchester meant that cartage was almost as costly. In practice though, maintaining this huge wheel along with the weir, mill pond and headraces, as well as reacting to extreme weather conditions, did not come without cost. 

In fact, the water system came close to catastrophe on several occasions. In 1872 a storm caused the river to flood, the weir to collapse and the entrance to the headrace to completely fill. Blame was laid on the watchman William Whittaker for negligence and repairs cost £522 ‘plus considerable amount for mill mechanics’ wages’.

Dredging the weir in the 1970s. Maintenance of the weir and machinery has been a challenge throughout Quarry Bank's history and remains one today
Dredging the weir in the late 1970s
Dredging the weir in the 1970s. Maintenance of the weir and machinery has been a challenge throughout Quarry Bank's history and remains one today

Similarly, an entry in the Mill Memoranda from the spring of 1844, reads as follows: ‘The water wheel which had been working since 1820, though with a large amount of mechanics’ labour having been expanded upon it for the latter years at least, met with an accident of a somewhat disastrous nature, and which took a considerable time to repair. By some unknown means one of the buckets became loose or broken on the wheel making the next revolution it was found that 13 buckets had been stripped off.’ The work required came to a whopping £1184 10 shillings and 5pence.

While £280 a year was a significant saving in coal, a large amount of it was required to maintain the aging water wheel and to combat damages caused by poor weather. Not such a saving after all.

Help! – Contracting Externally

Where possible, repair work was undertaken by the mill mechanics, but regular support was drafted in from external companies such as Wren & Hopkinson. Here you can see mechanics, such as Henry and John Venables, working alongside Wren’s men in 1892 to repair one of the bevel wheels which transmitted power to the shafts and subsequently the machines.

Where other repair services were required, for example to rebuild the weir, suppliers in and around the village were called to action with families of joiners, bricklayers and farmers providing cartage regularly appearing in the books.

Employees of J Renshaw and Sons
Workers from J Renshaw's joiner company
Employees of J Renshaw and Sons

The supply of timber and building work was regularly provided by a family of joiners, J Renshaw & Sons. This firm was in business from as early as 1841, managed by a man named James Renshaw with his sons James and John, and was passed down through generations. The family were regularly brought in to undertake woodwork to support the work of in-house mechanics and blacksmiths. Between 1879 and 1880 a mill ledger shows the firm were contracted six times with bills ranging from 7 shillings and 4 pence to £9 19 shillings and tuppence. The family lived in Hollin Lane, Styal, and joined in with Styal village life. When the Worker’s Library was opened in 1901, James Renshaw was one of the very first visitors, borrowing all sorts of books including a large amount of children’s fiction. This was presumably for the young Alfred and Percy who later joined him both at the library and in the firm.