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History of Quarry Bank

The mill and River Bollin in spring at Quarry Bank
The mill and River Bollin in spring at Quarry Bank | © Annapurna Mellor

Built at the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1784, Quarry Bank grew to become one of the largest cotton manufacturing businesses in the world. It was home to the mill-owning Greg family, as well as hundreds of mill workers and child apprentices. The story of Quarry Bank is that of an entire industrial community – and that of the revolution that shaped their lives.

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution changed our world forever. Technological inventions replaced people with machines, and whereas once thread and cloth had been made by hand at home, now they were made in huge factories like Quarry Bank. This period witnessed the construction of factories on an unprecedented scale. The creation of these factories enabled mass production, which in turn sparked the social and political change that would shape modern Britain.

Exterior of Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire
The Mill at Quarry Bank | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The mill

The mill that Samuel Greg built in 1784 was around half the size of the mill we see today. It was designed as a long, low block with tall windows that flooded the mill with light – however the lower panes were obscured to prevent the workers from gazing out and becoming distracted.

In 1796, the mill doubled in size with a second water wheel added, and a new weir built to feed it.

Around 1820, a new mill block was added, which created space for more spinning and carding machines, with 300 workers operating 10,00 spindles.

After Samuel Greg died, his son Robert added two weaving sheds (and 305 looms) and a cloth warehouse. Various other improvements took place during the 19th century including a new fireproof scutching room, steam engines and a boiler house. By 1855 the major building works at Quarry Bank were complete.

Quarry Bank House

Quarry Bank house was home to mill owners Hannah and Samuel Greg, who chose to build their home right next to the mill at Quarry Bank. This allowed them to be at the very heart of the business operation and be involved with various aspects of mill life. It also demonstrated pride in their business - Samuel’s mill was cutting-edge and visitors came to see its technology for themselves. The house was built in the Georgian villa style, however the Gregs were never an ostentatious family, and chose to keep the rooms elegant yet modest in size. With 12 children and visiting guests, the house soon became a family home as a well as a lively hub of debate, discussion and education.

Styal village

The village in Styal was built by Samuel Greg to house his workers. Alongside cottages and rows of two-up-two-down terraces, he also built shops and social spaces. By providing his workers with accommodation to live on site, this helped the mill owner to ensure efficient, cost-effective labour.

By 1840, Styal had transformed into a large and thriving village with 300 tenants. Almost everyone who lived in Styal village was employed by the Gregs, however not all of them worked inside the mill. Tenants also included gardeners, farmers, estate labourers, a shopkeeper, a village butchers and at one point, up to eight shoemakers. Alongside them were mechanics, engineers, bookkeepers, clerks and the mill manager.

The rows of two-up-two-down terraced cottages in the village are typical examples of workers’ cottages built during this period. Two families occupied each cottage – one family lived in the main house while the other family lived in the cellar.

Up to 14 people were once recorded as living in one cottage, however the average total household numbered around seven. Each cottage also had its own privy and allotment, and there was also a village green, a school and a village shop. This made Styal village a more appealing place to live, when compared to the streets of nearby Manchester.

The Apprentice House at Quarry Bank 2023
The Apprentice House at Quarry Bank | © Derek Hatton

The Apprentice House

The Apprentice House was built to house the child workers at Quarry Bank. They were given food and board in exchange for their labour. As many as 90 children lived packed in together inside the Apprentice House, sleeping two to a bed.

At the start of the Industrial Revolution, entrepreneurs such as Samuel Greg were looking for cheap labour to power their mills. The apprentice system offered the perfect solution. Children as young as eight years old were brought from workhouses or from their family homes to the Apprentice House.

On arrival, the children were asked to sign an indenture to confirm their employment with Quarry Bank. Some of the children had never learned to write, and so instead of signing their name they simply signed an ‘x’ on the dotted line.

The garden

The garden at Quarry Bank was created for the mill-owning Greg family to enjoy, and reflected the family’s growing wealth and status, while the kitchen garden provided food for their table.

The garden design is a unique example of the industrial picturesque – a new movement at the time Quarry Bank was first constructed. The design incorporated natural and industrial features side by side to create drama and interest within the garden. The mill was used as a backdrop alongside the natural valley setting with its caves, cliffs, wooded areas and bridges which crossed over the river Bollin.

In the walled kitchen garden, the Greg family used the latest technology to grow a range of fruit and vegetables. The curvilinear glasshouse was built in the 1820s and is one of the few surviving glasshouses of its kind in the UK. It was capable of producing exotic fruits, grapes and flowers all year round.

The growing of plants and fruits was a highly skilled job, and the head gardener’s salary and status reflected that fact. Some of Quarry Bank’s senior gardeners were recruited from other estates – the Scottish-born Alexander McLaren came from an estate in Mottram, for example – but others, such as William Brough, came from much closer to home.

By the mid-1800s the Greg’s regularly brought guests to view the walled kitchen garden and glasshouses, even opening them once a year to the public. Alongside common vegetables were luxury items such as asparagus and cauliflower (the latter still a novelty in the early 18th century), or out of season strawberries and winter grapes, while the glasshouses housed delicate exotics – all of which were used by the Gregs as a means of underlining their wealth and status.

Trees reflecting in the pond at Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire
Woodlands around Quarry Bank | © James Dobson

The woodland estate

The woodland estate surrounding Quarry Bank was designed as a picturesque landscape for the Greg family to enjoy, with six ornamental bridges, steep-sided gorges, caves, cliffs and a variety of trees.

The archive houses many paintings of the estate, which were created by the mill owners daughter Caroline.

Visitors at Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire

Quarry Bank's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Quarry Bank on the National Trust Collections website.

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