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‘Looking after people’s valuable memories’

April 15, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you our brand new oral history page on the website. I immediately wanted to hear and know more of these wonderful stories, and asked Sarah, our Oral History Intern, to compile some of her favourite stories to share with you all.

There is a secret treasure in the archives at Quarry Bank that any historic site would be jealous of – Quarry Bank Mill has an incredible collection of Oral History interviews. There are recordings with mill workers, Greg descendants, and villagers who have seen Styal and Quarry Bank Mill develop over the decades. There are over 7000 minutes of recordings, and the oldest interviewee was born in 1882, so when interviewees refer to ‘the war’ they could mean not only the First or Second World War, but the Boer War as well! As one of the Oral History volunteers brilliantly put it, the National Trust is looking after people’s valuable memories in the same way that it conserves historic buildings.

As the Oral History Intern I am fortunate enough to be looking after these gems for a few months, and I make the most of it, listening to their incredible stories almost every day. Listening to enough of the recordings turns you into a human encyclopaedia of Styal and Quarry Bank Mill, and I frequently annoy colleagues and housemates with the stories and tit bits of information that I come across. The recordings have also made me feel a lot more personally involved with the village and mill, and the fantastic volunteers who have been summarising some of the recordings have told me that they have become just as attached.

Some of the stories that stick with me the most are not necessarily the most historically significant; they are the ones that make me smile, and remind me that history is about real people. These are my personal favourites:

  • I’m sure that like a parent, I shouldn’t have a favourite interviewee, but I do – Alice Brown (nee Venables). Alice went to Styal School, worked in the Mill, and she covers just about everything you would want to know about Quarry Bank. She tells stories about an abandoned baby found on a doorstep, meeting her husband when he was a signalman and chivalrously saved her from a fine, and getting the decorator to secretly paint a man’s face into the marbling on her parents’ mantelpiece. She even sings skipping rhymes – ‘Raspberry, strawberry, apple jam tart; tell me the name of your sweetheart.’
Styal School in the early 20th century

Styal School in the early 20th century, where Alice went to school

  • Alice also taught me that the back row of Oak Cottages was known as Bug Row. Another villager, Reg Worthington, added that the front row was called Sunshine Row. Mary Wolstenholme, one of the last mill workers, describes the alternative names for the cottages at Farm Fold - at one time her uncle grew lots of pansies at their house, next door was Jean’s auntie Anna whose husband grew dahlias, in the next house was his sister, Nurse Potts, and the last was the post office, so the row was known as Pansy Villa, Dahlia View, Star of Peace and General Post Office. These lovely names for the streets and houses seem a lot more personal than the current numbers.
Mary Wolstenholme

Mary Wolstenholme

  • Several of the villagers remember Beatrice Greg, who used to live in the Apprentice House. She was stone deaf and carried an ear-trumpet and rode around the village on a trap pulled by her donkey, Jinny, much to the village children’s amusement. Jinny also used to be the unofficial weather forecaster in Styal, as she used to ‘eeh-aww’ whenever it was about to rain.
The Apprentice House, once home to Beatrice Greg

The Apprentice House, once home to Beatrice Greg and her donkey, Jinny

  • Mrs Slater talks about how cold the cottages in Styal were before central heating, particularly upstairs where there were no fires. As well as her hot water bottle, they used to wrap the shelf from the oven in a blanket and take that to bed too.
  • Bertha Brown’s mother worked in Wilmslow, so Bertha was trusted to look after herself after school. One day, she decided that she was going to make potato cakes for her and her friends, despite never attempting any cooking before. The potato cakes themselves were a ‘soggy mess’, but the worst came when Bertha put them on the fire – something went wrong with the fat dripping into the fire, and the flames jumped up, setting Bertha’s beautiful long hair on fire! She ran outside, in a panic, and her next door neighbour had to throw a rug over her to put the blaze out.
The fireplace at 13 Oak Cottages

The fireplace at 13 Oak Cottages

  • Joe Carberry worked at the Greg mill in Reddish. One Christmas, one of the women who worked in the mill had one drink too many and ended up throwing up in the toilet. In the process, however, she lost her false teeth down the toilet! What I think is particularly impressive/concerning is that she actually went to the sewage works afterwards to retrieve them.
  • Another amusing Christmas party anecdote comes from Emily Lyons, who had her first experience of whisky when working as a weaver at the Mill. The women she worked with clubbed together for a bottle, but the whisky proved too much for Emily and she fell into the barrel of bobbins! Suffice to say, she didn’t get any more work done that afternoon.
  • Margaret Fowler is the daughter of Helen Greg, and granddaughter of Ernest William Greg. One afternoon she was playing in the attic of Norcliffe Hall and decided to have a sword fight with her ancestors (or their portraits, at least) She took the fight a little too seriously and stabbed one portrait of a lady through the neck with a dagger. Years later her uncle, Alec, remarked how strange it was that one of the paintings was damaged in such an unusual way…
Norcliffe Hall, the setting for Margaret's triumph over the portrait

Norcliffe Hall, the setting for Margaret’s triumph over the portrait

These stories are a fraction of the amazing recordings in the Oral History archive. We are also in the process of conducting a new round of Oral History interviews, so if you or someone you know would be interested to share their stories of Quarry Bank, please email me at or contact Quarry Bank Mill directly. I always love to hear from anyone who has stories to tell about Quarry Bank Mill or Styal – who knows what other wonderful stories are out there, just waiting to be shared!

Styal in the 1860s

April 8, 2014

Whilst doing bits and bobs of research this past week, Ally directed me to a brilliant document, compiled by a man named Thomas Tongue in the 1920s, who had recalled from memory, at the age of 74, the men who lived in Styal village, complete with some truly fantastic anecdotes, that I had to share with you all. Hopefully they’ll bring a smile to your face!

“John Brown, gamekeeper, lived at the Scotts. Old Mrs Scott (Frank’s wife) could swear fluently and forcefully. One day she had made a big potato pie to last her folks two dinners, along with other things. Her folks had their dinner and returned to work. She lay down in the parlour for a nap prior to ‘siding up’.

Brown and two or three of the Gregs, after shooting all afternoon, getting hungry as hunters, called at Scott’s on their way to Norcliffe, found Mrs Scott asleep, ate the remaining half of the potato pie and all the other food on the table and then took their seats on a bench outside the front door, to wait results. Mrs Scott woke up and on missing the food ‘swore like a trooper’, rushed to the front door where she found the thieves laughing, whereupon she was profuse in her excuses, but she had given them a fine sample of what she could do in the line of cursory remarks.”

Oak Cottages

Oak Cottages

“George Shaw, elderly, bald, farm labourer, not married, a character, always good natured, illiterate, with education would have made his mark, addicted to drink. One Sunday morning boys found him lying on the pavement in the Horse Lane, sleeping off his Saturday night drink. As George awoke and sat up, John Waterworth and Thomas Hewitt (two leading Methodists) arrived. John Waterworth said, in the style all his own “George my lad, George my lad, whatever will become of thee?” Thomas Hewitt in his austere style said “George, the devil will get you.”

To the entertainment of the boys George replied “An’ suppose he does. I never did the devil any harm and he won’t do me any harm; it’s such folks as you, that are always backbitin’ him, that he’ll turn over with his fork for further roastin’. The two Methodists left and the boys helped George to his feet and started him towards his sister’s house in the village.”

The Methodist Chapel

The Methodist Chapel

William Sumner, old and past work, formerly ‘cut-looker’ at the mill had sons Edwin (coal retailer), Joseph, (had peculiar movement of one ankle and foot and therefore nicknamed ‘swipper’ after the loose end of a flail), William (coach man of Cr. Thomas Clarke, Wilmslow) and Herbert, also several daughters. He lived at Farm Fold in the end house of four, just across from the Methodist chapel.

His second wife Sarah (much younger than he was) was a good-natured but excitable woman with a loud voice. She wore ‘for best’ a capacious bonnet, of the style then known as ‘cottage’, black satin outside lined with white satin. One Sunday as the congregation left the Methodist chapel, they were very startled by loud exclamations from Sarah Sumner inside her own house. Some of them went to the door to inquire what was the matter and were tearfully told by Sarah “A’ar owd cat has gone and kittled in my best bonnet!”

Farm Fold, Styal

It just goes to show that even in the quiet village of Styal, life was certainly never dull!


Voices of the Past

April 3, 2014

For the past few months, our Oral History Intern, Sarah, has been busy cataloging our oral histories, and has uncovered some fascinating stories. Sarah has selected a few of her favourite clips which we’ve uploaded to the website for you to listen to.

The children of Styal have some tales to tell in their old age

The children of Styal have some tales to tell in their old age

Quarry Bank Mill has an incredible archive of oral history recordings, dating back as far as a maid born in 1882. They reflect the monotony of work at the mill, which is hardly ever seen as worth mentioning by the workers, but also the close knit community found in the village of Styal. The interviewees share fascinating stories about village characters, workers’ relationships with the Greg family, and the ways that the villagers found to have fun.”

The recordings come from people who either directly remember events, or are the descendants of those with incredible tales to tell.

You can listen to the recordings on our brand new oral history page,  and we will be updating them every couple of months, so keep checking back!


Through the Keyhole in Styal Village

April 2, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I gave you a behind the scenes look inside Quarry Bank House, and we all saw how the other half lived as it were. Well today, I had to go into No. 13 Oak Cottage, in Styal Village, known to us at Quarry Bank as the ‘pickled cottage. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to show you the workers lived, in contrast to their employers.


13 Oak Cottages

13 Oak Cottage

Before the arrival of Samuel Greg and Quarry Bank Mill, Styal was a small agricultural village.From 1790, Samuel expanded the village beginning with the conversion of several barns. In 1806–1822 he built several terraced cottages with allotments. Samuel carefully planned the village to ensure his workers had a healthy environment for, of course, healthy workers meant productive workers. The cottages were quite comfortable compared to the cramped, unsanitary conditions of accommodation in the towns.


The main bedroom

The main bedroom

The cottages usually had a cellar, parlour, scullery and two upstairs bedrooms, and each had its own backyard and privy, a significant sanitary advantage over the houses in the towns. Rent was deducted straight from their wages every Friday.

The front room

The parlour


The scullery

The scullery

There was often more than one family living in a cottage at a time. For example, at No. 5 Oak Cottage in the late 1830s was occupied by the Howlett family whilst the cellar was occupied by the Holts and Esther Price. In most cases it was one family living in a cottage, sometimes up to 14 people. Smaller families could have a cottage with individual lodgers or elderly or widowed mothers with their children (no more than 3 people).

The cellars were mainly used by small families (in most cases no more than 5 people, but in one of them there was once 8 people living in a cellar). They were also used for storing stone e.g. by James Hope who worked on Cross Farm and one was a preaching cellar.  Another cellar was listed as being used to store a handloom, which shows some people were still working from home. The cellar at No. 13 acted as a launderette and a fish and chip shop in the same week in the early 20th century!


The cellar in No. 13

The cellar in No. 13

To feed his growing workforce, Samuel Greg founded the village shop in the early 1800s under the ‘truck’ system – rather than paying in cash, the shopkeeper would keep a record of all purchases which would then be deducted from the mill workers’ salaries. Villagers could buy all their daily needs in the shop, including freshly churned butter and freshly baked bread, as well as other little luxuries such as clothes and tea. In 1873 the shop became a Co-operative, run by the workers. The fields in and around the village were farmed by two  families of tenant farmers. Both farms – Cross Farm and Oak Farm – cultivated a whole range of fresh food, from dairy, poultry and pork to cereals and root crops.

Samuel’s wife, Hannah, was incredibly concerned with the education of the workers and their children and helped to set up Styal Primary School in 1823, some ten years before education for factory children was made compulsory. Evening classes were also made available for the adult workers of the mill.

Styal shop

Styal shop

I know that poor old No. 13 looks quite unloved at the moment, just remember of course that the villagers would have taken great pride in their homes. You can see what they would have looked like when the workers lived in the cottages by visiting us and heading to the Mill Worker’s World gallery in the Mill, where we have a recreation of a cottage.

Styal Village in the 19th century

Styal Village in the 19th century

Sadly we don’t currently have the money to spruce it up, but as part of the Quarry Bank Project, we are hoping to restore the cottage to its 19th century appearance so that visitors can experience both sides of life at Quarry Bank – mill owner and mill worker. You can help us achieve this goal by donating to the Quarry Bank Appeal:


A Day in the life of…Vicky and Tim, LTV Rangers

March 21, 2014

What with the tremendous amount of wind and rain we’ve had the past few weeks, our Estate team have had their work cut out for them, clearing paths and removing fallen trees. The team has just acquired two new Long Term Volunteers, Vicky and Tim and this week I hand over to them to hear about their experiences so far…

Tim and Vicky at a training day

Tim and Vicky at a training day

“Hi my name is Vicky and I recently started as one of the new Long Term Volunteer (LTV) rangers here at Quarry Bank. I have been volunteering with the National Trust for just over 4 years at other properties while I studied for my degree, as I love the outdoors and nature. The role here at Quarry Bank gave me the perfect opportunity to increase my knowledge and skills in a completely new environment, having previously mostly worked from coastal properties.

Since starting, there has been a complete variety of work to be done from estate maintenance to conservation surveys. Working with the other LTV, Tim, we were set project work, for which we plan and organise to get the job done. One of these projects is managing Youth Rangers, a scheme aimed at 14-19 year olds to bring them outdoors one Sunday afternoon a month. We’re aiming to recruit more teenagers to this brilliant scheme by getting in touch with schools.

Project management is just one of the skills that can be gained from working at Quarry Bank, with each day different over the 400 acres of the site; there is lots of work to get done by the team of rangers and volunteers. Working with other volunteers is a big part of the role, especially here at Quarry Bank with over 40 volunteers helping out each week, and people coming everyday, it’s great to meet everyone and get to know why they’re here with the National Trust.

For me I love working for the Trust and all the aspects of the role; even clearing bins doesn’t put me off! In the future my aim is to be a ranger working for the Trust alongside volunteers and helping members of the public of any age learn to love the outdoors and nature as much as I do.”



“So why would I work for the National Trust for free then?  It’s a long story.  To begin with the Trust has always been a prominent institution in my life starting off with family walks when I was young and grew to the point where  I’m now working with them. I’ve always had a real passion for the outdoors and that led to me doing high school work experience on a farm, which led to me studying for a vocational qualification in Countryside Management.

Whilst studying for my qualification I had two further work placements first, with the local Nature Trust and after that 15 months on a local National Trust estate.  Back in November my boss at the estate I was working at e-mailed me telling me about the Long Term Volunteer Ranger position at Quarry Bank and, seeing the potential of the role, I applied and thankfully got it. So now I work here at Quarry Bank on the Styal estate, and it is definitely becoming a formative experience.

It has been a great opportunity to see the sides to being a ranger that I didn’t get to see volunteering part time; the paper work, the planning and preparation, and the need to constantly delete countryside chat e-mails!  It is also a helpful experience to see how different estates are run and there is always a new order and a new way of doing things to learn about each time you move estate, and that is truer here than anywhere I’ve been before.

In the long term, for me, it’s about the mountains and I hope that through this post I can gain the experience to help me get a role as a ranger or forester with the Trust in an area like the Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia. Paid of course…”


Tim Pyne

To find out more about volunteering roles within the Trust, check out the website for the latest vacancies:


Through the Keyhole at Quarry Bank House…

March 17, 2014

Well let’s not beat around the bush here, it should be fairly obvious to you all by now that the Greg family lived at Quarry Bank House, so if we were to try a blog style Through the Keyhole, the guessing game would be over pretty quickly. However, I know that you probably couldn’t resist having a nosy around the house, (I certainly couldn’t), whilst it stands empty before we find some new tenants.


Samuel and Hannah Greg had been living in Manchester, at 35 King Street for the first few years of their marriage in the early 1790s. However, Hannah found Manchester tiring and dull, but found ‘the romantic beauty of Quarry Bank’ to be the perfect tonic. Their young family had been staying at Oak Farm in Styal in the summer throughout the 1790s, but Hannah finally got her way when Samuel began building Quarry Bank House right next door to his beloved mill.

The first version of Quarry Bank House was a modest 18thC style villa, architecturally following the popular neo-classical style, and in terms of layout it followed the examples of dwelling within Styal village, with Hannah describing it as consisting of ‘3 or 4 rooms’.

By 1803 the Greg family had fallen in love with their new home and with business booming Samuel was able to double their modest house to twice its size. He added the large curving bay window to the dining room and built the Drawing Room, entrance hall and his office, as well as 5 new bedrooms, three of which were heated. He developed a basement complex which still remains and consists of the kitchen, laundry, coal room, wine cellar and a wet and dry larder.

The Entrance Hall

The Entrance Hall

From their new home, Samuel could exercise tight supervision of his workforce from his office and Hannah could cultivate her cosmopolitan saloon, in the largest room of the house – the Drawing Room, which is home to a beautiful classical fireplace, with a central plaque of a nymph on a cornucopia, spinning cotton, with a graffito of a sailing ship, symbolising the origins of the Greg family wealth.

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room

Graffito on the fireplace

The Drawing Room became a place of debate, where Hannah invited her friends who made up the liberal intelligentsia of Manchester and Liverpool, to discuss politics, social reform, education, medicine, art and poetry. She set up a Literary and Philosophical Society amongst her children called Duodecimo, which held its meetings in the Drawing Room. Each member had  to submit a paper, which was then drawn from a box and presented to the rest of the family for scrutiny, to help them learn the art of rhetoric.


The Office

The Office

Years later, in 1857 Edward Hyde Greg made Quarry Bank House his marital home, for his father Robert Hyde Greg had built the Tudor style mansion Norcliffe Hall. When he inherited Quarry Bank Mill in 1875 he reflected his new status in Quarry Bank House, by enlarging his grandfather’s old office. He installed 2 very interesting features; a Queen Anne Revival fireplace, almost identical to the one located in the Mill Manager’s Office, suggesting he altered the Mill at around the same time, and a beautiful stained glass window which bears the Greg coat of arms and motto.

The stained glass window bears the Greg coat of arms

The stained glass window bears the Greg coat of arms

Back in 1814, Samuel once again doubled the size of Quarry Bank House, demonstrating how far he had come from owner of a single mill to head of a business empire. This time he added an entire service wing, 3 bays long, 2 bays deep and 3 storeys high. Interestingly the windows of the wing are smaller than those in the rest of the house reflecting its primary status as a residence for the servants, despite also housing bathrooms, bedrooms and a nursery for the Greg children. The wing was set back from the rest of the house, thus hiding it from the view from the drive, so as not to spoil the symmetry of the rest of the house.

The now demolished service wing can be seen through the trees on the right-hand side

The now demolished service wing can be seen through the trees on the right-hand side

Sadly in 1963, the service wing was demolished as it was structurally unsound. The remains of the wing were adapted and remodelled, for example old door-ways were turned into windows, to preserve the appearance of the house. However the remaining house contains several interesting, rare archeological features.

The Dining Room

The Dining Room

For example, the Dining Room has remained largely unchanged since 1802, and contains a dinner service room, or pantry, with original benches, cupboards and shelves, which acted as a butler’s pantry until the service wing was built. Meanwhile the kitchen still retains its original 3-arched fireplace, which contains a roasting range and integral pastry oven, and possesses a rare survival of a wrought-iron hot plate, typical of the 1810s and 20s.

The room I am perhaps most jealous of is Samuel and Hannah’s bedroom, purely for the fantastic view that must have been a joy to wake up to every morning, and I can picture Sam and Hannah in their twilight years, peering out of the curtains in the evenings to watch their grown children come down from the Upper garden having watched the sunset over the valley.

Sam and Hannah's bedroom

Sam and Hannah’s bedroom

As part of the Quarry Bank Project we are going to open up Quarry Bank House to the public, and tell the story of the Greg family in their family home. We still need your help to make this a reality and you can do so by being kind enough to donate to our £1.4m appeal. We’re already half-way but there’s still half to go!


International Women’s Day – Hannah and Bessy Greg

March 11, 2014

On Saturday people all over the globe celebrated International Women’s Day to show their respect and appreciation towards women for their political, social and economic achievements. This got me thinking about some of the remarkable women connected to Quarry Bank, and, as I’ve just read David Sekers’ book, Hannah Greg and her daughter Bessy in particular sprang to mind.

Hannah had received an enlightened education in her youth and was raised in a Dissenting family. Her early experiences influenced her attitudes towards social reform, politics, education and the rights of women, all of which would come to influence her treatment of her husband’s workers and apprentices at Quarry Bank Mill. Hannah, as did all Dissenters, believed that education could affect social and moral progress, and that education should not be restricted to men or the middle and upper classes.

Hannah Greg shortly after she finished her education

Hannah Greg shortly after she finished her education

Hannah was largely responsible for the education of Samuel’s workforce. She drew up a plan to educate the apprentices, following the advice of her dear friend William Rathbone IV, titled Virtue Made Easy. This was a book of proverbs and sayings designed to instruct the apprentices on moral issues. Hannah believed “the moral lessons they contain are generally most strongly impressed, easily remembered and easily applied.”

Hannah’s attempt to educate the apprentices was part of the paternalistic approach the Greg’s applied to their workforce. She believed that “The labouring poor demand our constant attention. To inform their minds, to repress their vices, to assist their labours, to invigorate their activity, and to improve their comforts – these are the noblest offices of enlightened minds in superior stations”.  This view perhaps seems somewhat patronising to the workers and the apprentices, but meant that the apprentices, including the girls, were all afforded the opportunity to learn how to read and write, an opportunity rarely afforded at other mills.

Hannah and Samuel’s children were expected to give up their time to tutor the apprentices; the entire Greg family were well-known to their workers, and became close to their master’s children, even on occasion calling them by their first name. She also became involved in the apprentices spiritual well-being and wrote a number of sermons and addressed them on Sunday afternoons after they had been to church in Wilmslow, and were she absent one of her children took her place. She also took a keen interest in the medical welfare of the apprentices, dispensing the prescriptions and treatments drawn up by the Apprentice House doctor Peter Holland.

Hannah Greg in later life

Hannah Greg in later life

Her care of education expanded over the years and she was most likely the driving force behind setting up a school in Styal village in 1823 for the children of the mill workers. The school also provided evening classes and lectures for the adult workers, and several of Hannah’s enlightened friends gave lectures at the school whilst staying with the family at Quarry Bank House, including the ornithologist and naturalist James John Audubon.

Hannah’s eldest daughter Bessy inherited her mother’s zeal for education and social reform. She married the son of Hannah’s friend William Rathbone IV; William Rathbone V who became a leading liberal politician in the mid-19th century. Bessy herself became an incredibly important social reformer.

Bessy as a young girl

Bessy as a young girl

She immersed herself in charitable work, helping in prisons, education in Liverpool and poor relief. Bessy played a considerable part in reducing the spread of the cholera epidemic in Liverpool in 1832, working alongside Kitty Wilkinson, who happened to have been a protegé of her grandmother, (Hannah’s mother), Elizabeth Lightbody, who as part of her charity work for the poor had taught Kitty how to read and write. Together, Bessy and Kitty worked to set up a washhouse in Kitty’s cellar where the laundry from the surrounding area was disinfected to prevent the spread of disease. Kitty’s washhouse was the first public washhouse in Liverpool. After William Rathbone V’s advice, the council finally opened several washhouses and Kitty was put in charge. Bessy wanted none of the glory and was adamant that all praise went to Kitty.

When she was 81, Bessy’s advice informed the 1870 Education Act, known as Forster’s Education Bill; one of the most important education bills to be passed in the UK. It outlined the framework for schooling for ages 5 and 13, becoming the basis of schooling for primary schools today. Forster later recalled to Bessy’s son “the most valuable suggestions I received during the passage of the Bill were those from your mother”.

Bessy in later life with her husband William Rathbone V

Bessy in later life with her husband William Rathbone V on their golden wedding anniversary in 1862

Both Hannah and Bessy had sought to change the circumstances of those worse off than they, using education as their vehicle for social and moral reform.

Our upcoming exhibition Heroes of Adventure will be exploring the extraordinary stories of Madge and Helen Greg, and their brother’s fiancée Marian Allen, and you’ll be hearing more about them over the summer.

Of course, we cannot think about International Women’s Day and Quarry Bank without thinking about the remarkable women and girls who worked in the Mill, toiling away to provide for their families. As the archive continues to be catalogued, hopefully soon I will be able to share their stories and achievements too.


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