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Weaving Life at Quarry Bank Mill

By Dana Huntley 
Originally published by British Heritage magazine. Published Online: November 18, 2011 
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Until 1841, one-third of the millworkers were children below age 13. Like adult workers, they put in 13-hour days, six days a week and attended church on Sundays. Yet some apprentices stayed on to work at Quarry Bank as adults. Where would they find a better life? The mill also offered an old hand opportunity for advancement. One apprentice ended up as Mill Manager. It is easy to look back from our contemporary vantage point and conclude what dismal lives common folk led back 200 years ago. In fact, places like Quarry Bank Mill and Titus Salt's Saltaire represented progress and advancement for their laborers and their families. Decade by decade, living standards and working conditions continued to improve through the Victorian era. Life in Styal and places like it might not have been exactly the New Jerusalem, but life would have been quite optimistic.

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In addition to demonstating every aspect of the cotton textile production process, the five-story mill includes displays on mill community life and a reconstruction of a mill worker's cottage.
In addition to demonstating every aspect of the cotton textile production process, the five-story mill includes displays on mill community life and a reconstruction of a mill worker's cottage.
Quarry Bank Mill is one of the great National Trust visits. The five floors of the red brick Georgian mill are all open, and alive with the noise of machinery and the lint of cotton in the air. Skilled machinists demonstrate every aspect of the mill's operation. Clear, readable display boards walk the visitor through the phases of textile production, from bales of the raw material coming into Liverpool to finished goods shipped out of the Merseyside port.

This is perhaps the best comprehensive visit illustrating how hugely important the textile industry was to the economic engine of 19th-century British wealth and empire. Quarry Bank Mill remained in the Greg family for generations. It was Samuel Greg's great-great-grandson who gave the mill and estates to the National Trust in 1939.

The National Trust provides at the mill, as it does so often, a good café for luncheon or tea, and a customarily tasteful gift shop as well.

Adjacent to the mill, Quarry Bank House Garden illustrates how the Greg family lived—or at least how it gardened. The garden is gorgeous, of course, in season, but unless you're going to spend all day at Quarry Bank, it is something you can pass on.

Visits to the Apprentice House are by tour on timed tickets. Make arrangements when you arrive at the NT admission office. The garden and orchard surrounding the house are open to wander. Potatoes and beans, apples and pears: the apprentices tended the garden in their spare time after a 13-hour day.

Styal village is about a 20-minute walk from the Mill Yard. It's easy enough, however, to drive over, and there is plenty of parking. The terraced cottages today are private homes, but you can freely stroll about the neighborhood and get a feel for life in the mill community.

As a visit, Quarry Bank offers the advantage of being open throughout the year from 10:30 a.m., Wed.-Sun. in the off-season, seven days a week from March through October. A full calendar of special activities throughout the year can be accessed at nationaltrust.org.uk.


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