We arrived early at Quarry Bank and looked round before anything was open. This old cotton mill was run by the Greg family in the Bollin valley in Cheshire – just one their mills. The River Bollin turned the huge water wheel that drove the first machines on this site before they converted to steam. That wheel is still working.
At 11am we got our tickets and crossed a bridge into the factory. The first floor was fairly empty – undergoing a revamp. Part of it was being prepared for the children’s activities.
We could hear the thump of the machines down below. First we saw examples of carding, and spinning machines. Then a lady showed us the same process on earlier wooden machines: from carding through spinning to weaving – first with a hand moved shuttle, then a faster flying shuttle.
After that we came into the largest machine room (showed above) where a volunteer had four weaving machines going together.
There was then a lot of history displays, but we had to dash to get to the apprentice’s house for a booked tour at 12:15 to learn how these children lived.
Children worked 12 hour days in the mill, 13 as punishment if they were a minute late. They had an hours schooling from 8-9pm. Mr Greg’s wife was a Unitarian and made sure the girls also learned to read and write, and not just the boys.
The government were gradually tightening up on the hours of child labour, and eventually the apprentice house was closed down. The guide gave a very interesting, animated talk – accentuating some of the horrible history for the children in our audience. The children’s lives in those days was very hard. They were picked for being fit and given a medical before starting. Many came from the workhouse. After a trial period, to make sure they were good workers, they could sign up for anything from 2 to 10 years. In return for work they got the board and lodging.
There are also some beautiful gardens at Quarry Bank, with recently restored glass houses, and waterside walks, and some houses to view in the workers village .
The National Trust were also restoring the Greg family home, to be re-opened in September, and building a new visitor centre.