The workers' War
The wartime experiences of the workers are more difficult to piece together than the Greg family's because we don't have access to the same number of personal letters and photographs. Often we're reliant on war records and well as wage books and records held in the Quarry Bank archive. We're planning to continue our research in the future, but we've highlighted two of the workers' stories in this article.
The documents that started off our research were a collection of letters referring to an overlooker called Edward Cooper. We scoured the ledgers, business records, wage books, and maintenance ledgers for any mention of his name, and whilst we were unable to piece together exactly what happened to him during the War, we found out his importance to Quarry Bank Mill.
Edward had been promoted to overlooker just before War broke out and his absence was felt deeply at Quarry Bank.
Edward had enlisted in August 1915 with the Liverpool Regiment of the British Expeditionary Force and was posted to France. In March 1916 Quarry Bank Mill appealed to the Military Service Tribunal to request Edward’s return on the ground that he was essential being a Northrop loom overlooker. Northrop looms required specialist training and knowledge and the mill was concerned that these looms would remain unused as most of the male weavers were serving in the war. The request was approved and Edward returned to work for three months. When he was called back to army duty the Northrop loom department was closed down and all remaining weavers were transferred to the ordinary looms.
When the Armistice was signed, Quarry Bank wasted no time writing to the authorities requesting that Edward be discharged quickly so he could return to his work at the mill. Edward returned in 1919 and in 1950 was presented with a pocket watch by Alec Greg for 56 years of service to Quarry Bank.
Sadly not all the men of Styal who went to war returned, and men who had perhaps never expected to leave Styal or the North West found themselves scattered all over the globe by the conflict.
Edward’s cousin Alfred Sprowson was a weaver at Quarry Bank. He enlisted in 1914 and joined the Border Regiment. He trained in Egypt and later fought in the Dardanelles. He was injured in a gas attack in Gallipoli and died of his wounds in August 1915 while he was being transported on a hospital ship to Alexandria.
Alfred is buried in the Cairo British Cemetery. He received the 1915 Star, British War Medal and British Victory Medal.
Like many other mills during the War Quarry Bank continued to operate, but at a reduced level. The majority of the young male weavers joined the war effort. Some female weavers also joined the war effort. Alice Brown was sent to Burnage in Manchester to work as an inspector in a shell and fuse factory while others worked on the farms in Styal village or took on clerical duties in the counting house.