Power at Quarry Bank
The history of power at Quarry Bank encompasses the harnessing of a mighty river, a series of steam engines, a leap of faith in water turbines and, above all, the hard work of skilled labourers. The mill itself was moulded to suit each new development, and as the reins passed along the different generations of Greg family men, each had to decide whether to move in time with the technological innovations of their contemporaries, or to tread carefully and cautiously.
The first of these men was Samuel Greg, born in Belfast in 1758 and sent to England as a young boy to live with his uncle, linen manufacturer Robert Hyde, from whom he would learn the secrets of the cotton trade.
By 1791, everything had fallen into place for the young, entrepreneurial Samuel Greg. His position as purchasing agent for his cotton trading uncles, Robert and Nathaniel Hyde, had introduced him to key contacts. The American War of Independence had come to an end, reopening trade opportunities, and the patent for the water frame created by Richard Arkwright in 1769 had expired, allowing for the design to be freely used.
When Robert Hyde passed away, he left a substantial inheritance to his nephew Samuel, who immediately sought a patch of land near to water which could supply his new cotton warp spinning business. Steam power was at an experimental stage and was not yet a reliable source for powering a mill. Engineers such as Thomas Newcomen and James Watt had been developing steam powered engines, but Samuel Greg went in search of a power source he could trust. Even as steam became more common, engines were incapable of generating as much power as the latest water wheel designs and they certainly couldn’t claim to be as cheap, efficient or effective.
It is said that Samuel Greg used to tell stories of riding around the country in search of a suitable body of water. Styal provided the ideal site for this new venture, and in addition to the mill itself, all that was required was a weir to control the flow of the river, a headrace to deliver the water to the wheel, a tailrace to return used water from the wheel to the river, and of course a wheel whose water powered motion would drive the production of spun cotton.
In 1783 Greg’s surveyor, Hugh Oldham, confirmed that there was sufficient water fall from the River Bollin to Styal to power a mill, and Quarry Bank came into existence.
The following century would see rises and falls in production and profits and the Greg family would have to decide when and how to keep up with increased demand and competing markets. Would they keep faith in established water power, or would they take risks experimenting with the latest technologies?
Below is an introduction to the history of Power at Quarry Bank. Follow the links to find out more about how things worked and to read stories about the people who provided the essential mind and muscle power.