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Christmas with the Apprentices

December 11, 2014

Last year the cataloguing team found a series of letters relating to Robert Hyde Greg and his family at Christmas. It made me think about the very different Christmas that was happening at the Apprentice House.

Norcliffe Hall, the setting for the Greg's family Christmas in the 1840s

Norcliffe Hall, the setting for the Greg’s family Christmas in the 1840s

Christmas was without a doubt the best day of the year for the apprentices, who worked six days a week with very little time off; only six days a year. Many other factories and workhouses worked on Christmas Day for fear of losing profits, and in the case of the workers, their jobs.

At Quarry Bank Mill, Christmas was the only day off in the year when the apprentices didn’t have to have lessons, or complete their chores on top of their working day, and they only had to walk to church once, instead of the usual two trips they took every Sunday.

The Apprentice House in the 19th century

The Apprentice House in the 19th century

It was unusual for the children to see their families, as it was a long way to travel for many, and would have meant using more of their precious days off, but there were some special cases. In 1801, Bessie Night became an apprentice, and it was written into her indenture that she be allowed an extra six days off a year to see her family at Christmas.

However, Christmas was still a time for celebration at the Apprentice House. Samuel and Hannah Greg ensured that the apprentices received an education whilst they were under their care; in this respect they were pioneers in the industry, providing an education long before Factory Acts made it essential. It was at Christmastime that the Gregs acknowledged the hard work the apprentices had accomplished throughout the year, with an awards ceremony. The whole Greg family attended, with Samuel often travelling miles and miles from appointments and meetings, just to be at the prize giving.

Samuel Greg

Samuel Greg

The children’s school work was exhibited to the Gregs, and recitations were performed, possibly from Hannah’s own Sermons Written for the Apprentices.  The ceremony was the highlight of the day, and prizes were awarded to the boys and girls who had been the steadiest at work, most orderly in conduct, and most proficient in school. The  ceremony also coincided with the departure of apprentices who had come of age.

These prize giving ceremonies became a fond memory for the Greg children too, and Henry Russell Greg, Samuel’s grandson, later recalled at in 1883:

“The Apprentice House night when we boys sat on top of boxes to be given to the departing apprentices- the table with the rows of prizes, coffee cans and buns…”.

The schoolroom at the Apprentice House

The schoolroom at the Apprentice House

The celebration was rounded off with some currant loaf and ‘the luxury of tea’ in the kitchen.

Christmas Day brought the most delicious meal of the year for the apprentices, who were used to a diet of porridge and lobscouse stew. It was recorded in 1836 that 5 pigs were delivered to the House in the run up to Christmas, which was an unusually large amount of meat for the apprentices!

The superintendents of the Apprentice House, such as the Shawcrosses or the Timperleys, would likely have enjoyed a Christmas dinner of goose or beef, separately from the apprentices; turkey was eaten by wealthy sections of society in 19th century.

The Apprentice House kitchen getting ready to serve currant loaf

The Apprentice House kitchen getting ready to serve currant loaf

The superintendents would probably have finished off their meal not with Christmas Cake, (which was known as Twelfth Night Cake in the 19th century), but plum pudding. This was hugely popular treat, and making it involved a number of beloved traditions. As Christmas puddings traditionally had to be prepared by the Sunday before Advent in order to be ready for Christmas Day, the last Sunday became known as “Stir Up Sunday”. Everyone in the household would stir the pudding, starting with the youngest and working up to the oldest, and we can probably assume that the apprentices were involved in this tradition. The pudding mixture was stirred from East to West to symbolise the journey to Bethlehem made by the Three Wise Men, and each person made a secret wish when it was their turn to stir.

Other traditions that were part of making the plum pudding included adding only 13 ingredients to symbolise Jesus and the disciples, and adding 3 tokens which would bring the person who ‘found them’ some kind of good fortune– a ring (for marriage), a thimble (for a happy single life) and a sixpence (for wealth).

If you come along to our Victorian Christmas this weekend, you can visit the Apprentice House and find out more about the traditions they enjoyed, and even treat yourself to a slice of currant loaf in the kitchen.


Replacing the Water Wheel Blind at Quarry Bank

December 3, 2014

Last week we heard from our volunteer millwright Vince about the work that is under way at Nether Alderley Mill, our sister property. This week I’m handing over to Bruce, one of our Power Volunteers to hear all about the water wheel’s Blind replacement that has been happening here at Quarry Bank…

The Norfolk Millwright Alliance has been engaged to replace the blind on the waterwheel at Quarry Bank Mill. The current blind was fitted when the wheel was installed nearly 30 years ago, and now has deteriorated to the point where it no longer allows the water flow to be shut off completely, thus compromising the control of the wheel.
The new blind has been fabricated from water buffalo hide, bound together with steel strips, and is a direct copy of the old blind. Though we always speak of “the blind”, it is in fact two blinds, as the penstock has a division in the middle, and therefore there is a blind on either side of the division. Each blind weighs approximately half a ton.

Water Wheel blind 2

The first new blind arrived at Quarry Bank in the back of the millwrights van, and was carefully unloaded and manhandled into the chamber beside the waterwheel.

Before starting work in the penstock (the trough of water the millwrights are standing in, in the picture below), it was necessary to secure the counterweight – which weighs about 508 pounds – to ensure that it was safe to start dismantling the blind controls.

Water wheel penstock

The chains which control the operation of the blind were removed followed by the bars securing the bottom of the blind to the penstock. Next the blind was cut up so that it could be removed in pieces of a manageable size.

Water wheell blind removal

The final piece was the largest and heaviest. Once this was out it was possible to see a view not seen since the wheel was installed, in particular the wooden roller on which the blind is moved up and down.

Water wheel blind 3

With the old blind out, the new blind was lifted carefully into position over the penstock – given its weight, and the limited access, this was quite a long and delicate operation.

Water wheel blind 4

The blind was then unrolled into the penstock in order for it to be lifted into position over the roller ready to be secured in place ready for another 30 years work.

Water wheel blind 5

Finally, the blind secured at the bottom, folded over the roller, and with the operating chains attached – though there is still a little more work to do before it is fully ready to be used.

Water wheel blind 6

So that’s one done, one to go – but the second blind may not be as easy, as the access to the right hand part of the penstock is rather more restricted, with large beams above it:

Water wheel blind 7


The work on the water wheel is ongoing, and the Norfolk Millwrights Alliance will be returning later this week to install the second blind, until then, the water wheel will be out of action.



Noses to the grindstone… maintaining Nether Alderley Mill

November 26, 2014

The National Trust has now entered its Winter season, and many properties across the country have closed completely to undertake important conservation and restoration work. One such property is Nether Alderley Mill, also looked after by the Quarry Bank team. Earlier this week the Norfolk Millwrights Alliance returned once more to carry out the annual conservation work at this 15th Century flour mill. One of our volunteers, and miller at Nether Alderley Mill, Vince Chadwick went behind the scenes…

The initial news from the Norfolk Millwrights wasn’t good; a large stone supporting the bearing for the main vertical shaft in the mill has tilted slightly, no doubt due to undermining by the running water in the mill basement. Apparently this was a fault known about when the mill was recently restored, and it was put right. But obviously the repair hasn’t lasted and the National Trust are to get a structural engineer in to have a look and come up with a better repair scheme.

The millwrights then designed a repair for a major water leak in the leat (trough) taking water off the upper wheel and feeding it to the lower wheel. After that, it was time to ‘split the stones’, that is lift the runner mill stone off the bed stone to inspect the milling surfaces.

Pit fornlower wheel

The pit wheel for the lower water wheel is on the right. It engages with the ‘wallower’ (the horizontal bevel gear wheel on the vertical shaft), to transfer the water wheel’s power via the vertical shaft to the hurst frame (where the power from the upper water wheel and the lower one are combined) and thence to the mill stones. The vertical shaft rests on a bearing, which is located on a supporting stone on the mill basement floor (visible below the wallower in the picture). It is this support stone which has tilted, causing the bearing to wear unevenly and the gears to mesh slightly out of alignment.


The first job is to remove the ‘furniture’ from over the mill stones. The grain hopper has already been removed, and the ‘horse’ (the frame which supports the hopper) will be next, followed by the ‘skirt’, the metal shroud around the stones.

millstones skirt2

A close up view of the sweeper. As the milled grain (flour) is blown out of the gap between the runner and bed stones (there’s quite a strong airflow induced by the stones’ rotation blowing from centre to the rim along the wide grooves in the stones, like a centrifugal fan). The flour settles in the gap between the stones and the skirt. The sweeper sweeps it around the stones until it comes to the flour chute, which it drops into.

Note the metal bands around the stone, which holds the individual burr stones together in one homogeneous mill stone. The top band is very deep, and there are two much thinner lower bands. As the stone wears, the lower bands can be removed one at a time to allow the stone to continue to be used. By the time both small bands have been removed and the stone is worn down to the wide band, there is insufficient depth of stone left to continue use (above the burr stones is a deep cap of plaster of Paris; the burr stone does not extend very far up into the wide metal band). This stone might originally have had three narrow bands, one of which has already been removed.

When a runner stone is worn too thin to be heavy enough to grind the grain (they weigh about a ton when new) it might be used as a bed stone.

Nam flour chute

The flour chute. The sweeper sweeps the newly-milled flour round inside the skirt until it comes to this chute, which it falls down to be bagged on the floor below.

NAm stones lifted

The millwrights fed straps around the runner stone so it could be lifted off the bed stone. The first job once the stones were separated, was to clean off the flour with brush and vacuum cleaner.

NAM stones

French burr stones like these are made up of sections of stone pieced together, the gaps filled with plaster of Paris. The separate burr stones and ‘dressing’ of the stones’ surfaces can be seen here. The long troughs cut in the stone carry the grain from the centre (the ‘eye’) towards the edge of the stone aided by the airflow they generate, and do the initial cutting of the grain. They distributes the cut grain over the face of the stones for even milling by the ‘stitching’ grooves. The metal object above the centre of the bed stone is the ‘mace’, which supports and drives the runner stone when it is in place above the bed stone.

The very fine grooves (the stitching) do the fine cutting (milling) of the grain while the wider ‘troughs’ do the initial cut and distribute it. On our stones some of these stitching areas were polished smooth and the millwrights used an angle grinder with a diamond tipped blade to renew them. Traditionally this job would have been done with a ‘mill bill’, a sort of wooden adze with a metal cutting tool. That was painfully slow and painful! It induced repetitive strain injuries and bits of stone and metal flying from the tool embedded themselves in the millwrights’ arm. The origin of the term ‘to show one’s mettle’ is said to originate from millers wishing to see a millwright’s fore-arm for such evidence of stone dressing experience.


NAM millwright grooves

In the meantime, the structural engineer and building inspector will have a look at that displaced bearing stone in the basement of Nether Alderley Mill, repairing it in time for the reopening in April next year.

Remembering the fallen soldiers of Styal – Heroes of Adventure

November 11, 2014

Today, 96 years since Armistice was declared, and the First World War ended, people around the world remember those who courageously gave their lives. At 11 o’clock this morning, the staff and volunteers of Quarry Bank gathered in the Heroes of Adventure exhibition to observe the two minutes silence.

Styal village lost 24 men in the War, including Arthur and Bobby Greg, and Alfred Sprowson who are featured in the exhibition. In 1920, two years after the Armistice, the War Memorial Committee invited the people of Styal to make arrangements to erect a memorial for the fallen soldiers. The village came together as a community to honour their brave men.

Some of the soldiers of Styal in the Mill Yard before deployment

Some of the soldiers of Styal in the Mill Yard before deployment

A sub-committee made up of Styal’s ex-servicemen was formed, chaired by Ernest Greg (Arthur and Bobby’s father) and his brother, Robert Alexander Greg.

The total cost of the memorial was £350, and the committee sent out a leaflet to villagers asking for donations: “it shall be purely a free-will offering, as a token of gratitude to those who laid down their lives for their country.”


On 15th October 1921, the village marched with a brass band to the site of the memorial. The Order of Service was as follows, as described in the event’s accompanying leaflet:


1. HYMN … “O God out help in Ages past.”

2. Scripture … ST. JOHN XIV. Verses 1-6. Revd. H.J.LUXON

3.Reading of Recorded Names … Lieu.- Col. A. GREG, C.B.E.

4. Unveiling Ceremony and Dedication .. Col. E.WW. GREG, C.B.

In perpetual and loving memory of the Men of Styal who gave their lives for King, Country, and Freedom, in the Great War, 1914-’18, I unveil this Memorial and commit it to the care of the Parish Council of Styal for ever. “Greater love hath no man this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

5. Volleys by Firing Party



8. Prayer     … Revd. E.A. Smith, B.Sc.

9. HYMN     … “Fight the Good Fight”

10. Wreaths placed by Ex-Service Men …

11. Prayer, and Benediction .. Revd. A. ANTLIFF



We are lucky enough to hold in the archive the notes that Ernest made for his heartfelt speech:

Their names are enshrined in our hearts. Let none of us forget those Styal men who went forth inspired by the same spirit of duty & self sacrifice… Let us take our courage in both hands, let us remember our dead let us gather inspiration from their glowing example of simple & noble self sacrifice; and it is in the fervent hope that this monument will always remind us not only of our dear laddies & their noble deaths but of our duty to the ideals for which they so ungrudgingly laid down their bright young lives…

Ernest William Greg

Ernest William Greg

These memorials… will be an everlasting appeal to our better selves. They should ever recall the spirit that sent those dear fallen lads of ours forth… Surely these monuments erected all over the country are a perpetual reminder to us of the terrible cost of modern war, of the suffering & sadness. Of the waste of lives, of the destruction…

And this is the great lesson that must be taught & insisted upon by parents & teachers alike to the children of this & succeeding generations.”

Styal War Memorial

The War scattered the men of Styal far and wide, and those who lost their lives were laid to rest across the globe. Ally and I spent some time researching where these brave men were buried.


Brigadier General Noel Lee, 1867-1915
Pieta Military Cemetery, Malta

Captain Fred Eastwood , 1895-1917
Ferme-Olivier Cemetery, Jussy, Belgium

Captain Arthur Tylston Greg, 1894-1917
Jussy Communal Cemetery, Belgium

Captain William H Watney, 1880-1915
Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium

Sec Lieutenant Robert Philips Greg, 1899-1918
Lijssenthoek Cemetery, Belgium

Sec Lieutenant Noel Esmond Lee, 1897-1917
Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium

Sec Lieutenant Godfrey J Mason, 1897-1918
Gorre British and Indian Cemetery, France

Sergeant James Goldstraw, 1894-1918.
Wilmslow Cemetery, England

Corporal George Allman, 1888-1914
Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

Lance Corporal William Bone, 1886-1914
Cement House Cemetery, Belgium

Lance Corporal Alfred Sprowson, 1888-1915
Cairo War Cemetery, Egypt

Private Arthur Adshead, 1885-1916
Knightsbridge Cemetery, Mesnil-Martinsart, France

Private James Ashpital, 1898-1917
Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium.

Private Charles Bowyer, 1893-1916
Thiepval Memorial, France

Gunner John Earlam ,1885-1918
Morbecque British Cemetery, France

Private Arthur Frost, 1888-1914
La-Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial, France

Private Arthur Jackson, 1889-1916
Styal, Cheshire, England

Private Arthur Jenkins
Resting place unknown

Private Harold Johnson, 1887-1918
Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt

Private Thomas Leah, 1878-1917
Tancrez Farm Cemetery, Belgium

Private Thomas Moore 1893-1917
North British Cemetery, Baghdad, Iraq

Private Albert Scott
Resting place unknown

Private Alfred Wood, 1891-1916
Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

Private John Worthington, 1897-1917
Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension, France

Marian Allen, Arthur Greg’s bereft fiancée, wrote this poem on Armistice Day 1920.


The battlefield gives up her nameless son,

With peace about his feet and head at rest,

He does not come alone this silent one

Who tears the nations sword upon his breast.

A simple warrior unmarked by fame,

Who heard the call and took a soldier’s chance,

He fought and died and left behind a name

Writ only in the blood stained soil of France.


For all who fed the battle line as he

Or spread their wings and climbed the tractless skies

Or trafficked the dark roadways & the sea

The Empire’s symbol of her Dead he lies;

While year by year November mists again

Will mourn above the ground where they were slain.


If you have any information about the men whose names are etched on Styal War Memorial, or if you have information about those who were lucky enough to be welcomed home, please get in touch at Heroes of Adventure  is open until this Sunday, 16 November.


‘Keep up with jargon in four languages’ – a Greg summer holiday

November 7, 2014

Our cataloguing project is still under way and we are still discovering new information about the Greg family and the workers. One of our archive volunteers, Ian, has been working on the letters relating to a family holiday taken by Robert Hyde Greg and his family in the 1850s…

In the summer of 1857, Robert Hyde Greg, his wife Mary, and their children Sophy, Caroline and Henry, were on holiday in Austria. There are 8 letters in the archive, written between 11 July and 28 August 1857 relating to this trip. Most were written by Robert to his eldest son Robert Philips Greg and refer to an  illness that befell Mary and Henry.

Robert Hyde Greg as a young man

Robert Hyde Greg as a young man

On 11 July 1857, the family was in Salzburg and Mary and Henry were already ill with a fever, for which the only local treatment was “to drink slops”. Caroline noted that Henry “does not mind light and noise as much as he did in Ischl, which is fortunate as soldiers are drumming all the time“.

Caroline Greg was worried about her mother and brothers

Caroline Greg was worried about her mother and brothers

Communication was difficult. Robert referred to his valet translating in broken Italian, the doctor speaking French but only in medical terms and others using broken German. He had “to keep up with jargon in four languages”.

On 29th July, Robert wrote that Mary and Henry were out of bed but were in separate rooms; they had not seen each other for 3 weeks. Robert also noted that Arty, his youngest son who had not travelled with them, had smallpox, despite having been vaccinated. Caroline expressed hope that Arty would not be scarred.


Henry recovered faster than his mother. Robert  noted on 19th August that Henry had walked 2 miles to the shooting ground. Mary was confined to bed and the doctor thought she had had an ‘internal derangement‘ for a year or more and that the fever brought things to a crisis point.


Robert’s wife, Mary Greg (nee Phillips)

Robert had clear views about their accommodation and the people of Salzburg and Innsbruck. They stayed in an inn in Salzburg that had stables and coach houses on the ground floor and abounded with bad smells. He was critical of the beds (“anything more miserable than the German bed establishment cannot be conceived”) and observed that it was impossible to buy a blanket in Salzburg. Women in Salzburg seemed to be more industrious than the men; “men are all either soldiers, officials or loungers and smoke all the time“. The effective labour of England, even unaided by machinery, surpassed anything Robert had seen on the Continent. He thought the people of Innsbruck to be “a finer race of men and the women less ugly than in Salzburg. There were fewer smokers and a great diminution of beards and moustaches.

There are no descriptions of what they saw in Austria apart from having had a good view of the eclipse of the sun on 28th July.

Robert referred to the lack of news from England – he requested copies of The Guardian in several letters and complained when the newspaper had not been sent. He offered Robert Philips business advice and, in one letter, criticised him for not acknowledging receipt of letters clearly and for writing “epistles on scraps of paper”.

When the family arrived in Innsbruck, they received 36 letters from Robert Philips and Robert noted that the previous day, he had paid a postage charge of 35 shillings (equivalent to approximately £75 today).

On 28th August, Robert Hyde wrote to Robert Philips that Mama was quite lively, her pulse was down to 60 and she was ready for dinner.


It seems then that even the Greg’s couldn’t avoid a holiday bug, at least nowadays we can escape the unpleasant treatment of drinking “slops”!

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How our visitors care for Quarry Bank – the Bell Tower, the water wheel, cobbles and glasshouses

October 14, 2014

In two weeks the National Trust will have entered its Winter season, and many of the mansions and houses we look after will close to carry out important conservation works on the buildings and their collections. Whilst we reduce our open days from 7 to 5 here at Quarry Bank, we are also busy getting started on several important conservation projects, alongside our annual machinery tune ups.

Bell Tower Restoration

If you’ve visited us this week, you will no doubt have noticed that we are erecting scaffolding on the Bell Tower, part of the original section of the Mill built in 1784. This is to allow our Estate Buildings Team to assess the current state of the timbers supporting the Bell Tower dome, the structure of the bell, and the state of the clock face. This project is all about restoring as far as possible, and only replacing if there is no other option. We have worked with the local council’s Conservation Officer, as well as our Regional Conservator and Regional Buildings Surveyor when making the decision to repair or replace.

Clock Tower scaffolding

Currently the team expect to carry out the following work:

-Repairing and repainting the timbers which support the dome

-Replacing the lead of the dome using a specialist contractor

-Replacing the ball finial at the top of the dome

-Re-gilding the clock numerals and repainting the clock face using a specialist contractor

-Repainting the windows on the gable elevation

The Bell Dome needs serious restoration work

The Bell Dome needs serious restoration work

We’ve put in several safety measures to make sure the Estate Buildings Team don’t get the shock of their lives (literally): a temporary lightning conductor will be installed on the scaffolding, and we will also be stopping the bell from chiming so that the team isn’t deafened on the hour every hour!

Water wheel Blind

In November, our Premises and Engineering Team will be carrying out a project to replace the water wheel Blind. The Blind is an important part of the mechanism that allow the water wheel to turn, as it effectively acts as the “on/off” switch for the wheel, by controlling the flow of water from the headrace to the pentrough onto the wheel’s buckets, which makes the wheel turn. You can see a working model of the Blind in the Water Gallery.

The Blind is made of leather and has deteriorated over time, leaving a large hole which is allowing river water to leak through and turn the water wheel. This means we no longer have full control of the wheel. If the hole is allowed to get any larger, we won’t be able to operate the water wheel safely for our visitors. Our Premises and Engineering team have made temporary repairs, but a full replacement is needed. (I asked our Premises and Engineering Manager if there was any way to get a picture of the Blind, but it seemed far too complicated and involved a lot of ladders so I told him not to worry!)

Our water wheel is the most powerful working water wheel in Europe

Our water wheel is the most powerful working water wheel in Europe

We’re working with the Norfolk Millwrights Alliance to create a replacement Blind. Using traditional skills and specialist suppliers, they will use the existing Blind as a template to produce the replacement.

To create the new Blind, it will take:

-35 days of work

-9 buffalo hides per blind

- 42 galvanised steel bars and 2 lifting bars

-176 copper rivets per blind

-1,100 galvanised steel washers per blind

-1,100 leather washers per blind

The end result will be a Blind which will allow us to run the water wheel safely for our visitors for decades to come.


There’s quite a commotion in the Mill Yard over the next few weeks, as specialist contractors, Oldham Surfacing Ltd, work to re-cobble the yard from the Learning Office, across the Ticket Office, ending at the Pantry to effectively create an access ramp to these three areas. Instead of installing brand new ramps, we have chosen to turn the existing 19th century cobbles into a gradual slope. To do this they must remove the cobbles from their individual sets and re-bed them upon a small incline. Traditionally cobbles were bedded on limestone and cinder; however, Lynn and Richard are using a mixture of limestone and cement. This will allow water to pass through the cobbles reducing the risk of damage over time.

Our Visitor Services Assistant, Jass, tries her hand at cobbling

Our Visitor Services Assistant, Jass, tries her hand at cobbling, as Richard looks on wondering if he’s made a terrible mistake…

Thank you to our supporters

We couldn’t have completed any of these important conservation and improvement works without our visitors. Every time you visit, buy a gift in the shop, or have a delicious scone in the Café, because we’re a charity, your money comes straight back to us at Quarry Bank and into the proverbial piggy bank that we dip into to complete these projects. No matter how small your contribution, it really counts – in 2012 we were able to restore the small glasshouse in the Upper garden solely through funds raised from selling raffle tickets at the Garden Kiosk! A huge thank you then, is owed to every one of you who has visited us and allowed us to keep caring for this amazing place!

The small glasshouse before its restoration

The small glasshouse before its restoration

The small glasshouse was repaired using funds raised solely from raffle tickets

The small glasshouse was repaired using funds raised solely from raffle tickets


The glasshouse

Our next big restoration project will be the curvilinear glasshouse in the Upper garden, as I have mentioned in a few posts the glasshouse dates back to the 1830s, and acted as home to a variety of historic and exotic  and was made up of thousands of panes of glass, and every single one needs to be replaced. You can help by sponsoring a pane of glass for £50. Every sponsor will receive a commemorative certificate, and anyone donating £250 or more will have their name displayed on a plaque in the glasshouse once it has been restored. You can sponsor as many panes as you like – as unique gifts, in memory of a special person, or as a donation from your organisation and in doing so become part of the Quarry Bank story.

You can help save the glasshouse

You can help save the glasshouse

If you would like more information about becoming a donor call 01625 445 875, or download a donation form here:


“You have a very good raw material to work upon” – brotherly advice to Robert Hyde Greg

October 13, 2014

Last year I shared a letter with you from Robert Hyde Greg, expressing his joy to his new fiancée, Mary Philips, that she had accepted his offer of marriage. The archive volunteers later found a letter from his father Samuel Greg, describing his delight for his son, and advising the couple not to worry about what others thought of them, but to just be happy.

Robert Hyde Greg as a young man

Robert Hyde Greg as a young man

Now, the archive volunteers have found another letter pertaining to Robert’s engagement to Mary Philips, and it would seem that not everyone was as happy about it as Robert’s father. Robert’s older brother, Thomas Tylston Greg, wrote to Robert shortly after he announced his engagement, expressing his disappointment – perhaps this letter was the prompt for Samuel’s…

Born in 1793, Thomas was Samuel and Hannah’s eldest son, and Robert’s elder brother by two years. Whilst his father envisaged each of his sons running one of the five mills that he had founded, didn’t join the family business, and instead was sent to London where his uncle had an insurance-broking business. He was trained to become a partner, but he was more interested in literary pursuits, and so he didn’t do very well as a broker. It seems he was considered slightly ‘wild’ by his parents, because Hannah wrote to him giving him stern guidance. However, in 1814 he became a partner in Greg, Lindsay & Co, but retired from it in 1828 after Hannah died.  Thomas was influenced by his mother, Hannah, in his interest in literature and poetry, and would have preferred to be a poet or writer.

Despite the advice Thomas doles out in his letter to Robert about suitable fiancées, he himself never married.

In his letter to Robert, written in February 1824, Thomas gives Robert and Mary the largest number of backhanded compliments I think I’ve ever come across in a single letter or conversation!

Mary Philips

Mary Philips

He begins with his astonishment that Robert has become engaged to someone from the Philips family, whom Thomas imagined Robert was merely doing business with:

The intelligence contained in your letter which reached me this morning unquestionably surprised me, being fully persuaded by everything which I heard from yourself and others that your mind was intent only on the profits of business.”


Thomas then begins to lament that he only hopes that Mary can be as equally esteemed in his eyes as Robert’s three former loves (charming!):

With your three former loves I am well acquainted and have a strong regard for all – I had a note in my hand from one of them (Jane Hunter) when your letter was given to me. I do not know the lady, whom you have made your own, as well as either of those three, and should not wish more for her that she may prove their equal in worth and in my estimation and regard.”

It is then that Thomas rips into Robert’s soon to be in-laws:

I have so often talked to you of the family to whom you are about to ally yourself and not with that you must be perfectly well possessed of my sentiments regarding them all…That they have intelligent minds and affectionate hearts I have not the least doubt; but in manners and knowledge of the world they are yet children, or rather they have much to undo; for it seems to me they have too great a disregard of most things on which society lays great thought and justly so, and that on these subjects they have a confidence in their own notions and a contempt for those of others, unfavourable to their own improvement and to their influence and character in the society which they must be members…”

As if that wasn’t enough, Thomas expresses his surprise that if Robert has chosen to marry into the Philips family, that he has chosen Mary, and not Esther,Mary’s younger sister.


He ends the letter in a kinder tone (if you can call it that) and it seems there is redemption for Mary after all, if only in Robert’s hands:

That Mary will improve vastly under your management I have no doubt, with proper care on your part and separation from the same to which she has been accustomed…You have a very good raw material to work upon and I hope that will evince that you are a skilful artist by the manner in which you will fashion and adorn it.”

I wonder if at this point Robert was ready to tear up the letter, or perhaps being the younger brother, he lapped up the ‘advice’, but knowing what we do of Robert, I highly doubt it!

Despite Thomas’ gloomy opinions about the match, Robert and Mary went on to have a happy a marriage and had six children together. You can read more about their relationship and family life here:



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