The introduction of weaving and the beam engine

Plan of the beam engine from 1836

By 1825, Samuel’s son Robert Hyde Greg had joined the firm as a junior partner. Times were hard as a result of the economic crash and competitive markets, and the young Robert Hyde had big plans to combat these threats with innovation in machinery and power. However, his plans conflicted with the increasingly cautious Samuel – could they put their differences aside to secure the future of the mill?

The economic crash of 1825 put strain on the business. Meanwhile, the growth of the Industrial Revolution meant that steam engines began to be favoured over water power. Coal could easily be supplied to Manchester city centre by way of the Bridgewater Canal and before long mills were springing up across the city. Robert Hyde Greg, now a junior partner at the firm, saw the need to introduce weaving at Quarry Bank to ensure the business could keep up with its city competitors, but Samuel, increasingly cautious towards modernisation and taking risks, refused to make the change.


When Samuel died in 1834, Robert wasted no time in modernising the mill, installing a 20 horsepower beam engine of 'superior perfection... for all purposes' from Boulton & Watt in 1836 and introducing looms for weaving by 1838. More expansion was needed to house these new installations and so building commenced on a weaving shed and boiler house.


Beam engines had a single cylinder and drove machinery by converting the irregular motion of the piston moving in the cylinder at one end of the engine along a pivoted beam to the flywheel at the other into a constant rotary motion. 


A new boiler, The Steam Users Association and Sir William Fairbairn


In 1843, the original 1810 boiler could not continue to support the beam engine and a new boiler house was built to house a 31hp boiler. At this time there were many reports of boilers boiling dry and exploding and it was deemed necessary to develop some regulation for trained professionals for inspection and maintenance. William Fairbairn, the renowned engineer who had worked for Thomas Hewes during the time of the installation of the 1818 water wheel, founded the Steam Users Association in 1854, which undertook checks on factory boilers. There are many reports and guarantees in the collection from inspections undertaken at Quarry Bank. 

Plan of the 1843 boiler
Plan of 1843 boiler
Plan of the 1843 boiler


Fairbairn was a great innovator and one of his high breastshot suspension wheels is now in situ at Quarry Bank. 


Fairbairn learnt a lot from Hewes and in the semi-autobiographical 'The Life of Sir William Fairbairn', it is explained that he left the firm after he and Hewes had applied independent of each other for the same contract. 'I determined no longer to remain the servant of another, but by one bold effort to take an independent position in those departments of practical construction in which I conceived I had some chance of success.' Further on he states: 'I could never act the part of a copyist, and during the whole course of my professional career I never accomplished any improvement or discovery of the least value if I attempted it by a slavish imitation of my predecessors.