Skip to content

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:


Hallowe’en Celebrations at Quarry Bank

October 1, 2014

I can’t quite believe that it’s already October, but preparations for Hallowe’en have been well under way for the past month or so, and I’ve just started taking stock of our decorations, but Horace and Boris the giant spiders will be making a reappearance…

We’re kicking off the celebrations with our annual Spooky Tours on Fri 24 and Sat 25 October, a ghostly trip through the Mill led and performed by the students of ALRA. Last year, guests became members of a jury in a murder trial; Verity had gone to prison for murdering men to rebuild her dead son, a bit like Frankenstein’s monster. Things came to a head when Verity attacked the female detective, and the male detective revealed himself to be her recreated son… creepy. We have no idea what this year’s story is, but we can guarantee it will be just as ‘frightful’ as last year! Tickets are £7, ages 12+, get your tickets here: shot 3

The following week we have our Autumn Spooktacular – from Mon 27 – Fri 31, 12pm-4pm. Kids can get creative and decorate their own ‘Trick or Treat’ bag, and follow the Hallowe’en trail through the Mill (50p per trail, normal admission applies).

Science 2

We’re having fun on our Spooky Science day (Weds 29, 12pm-4pm), when children can meet a ‘creepy’ creature with Reef’s Reptiles, and have a go at some ‘spooky science’. Last year I got to meet a chameleon, bearded lizards, a python and a skunk! (Normal admission applies)

Science 1

We hope to see you over Hallowe’en!


Heroes of Adventure – what our visitors think

September 19, 2014

Our exhibition Heroes of Adventure has been on display for a few months now, if you still haven’t seen it, here are some kind comments from our visitors about the exhibition, who will hopefully persuade you to come and visit…

“It shows how brave and selfless people were. It proves that we must learn from our history to try and stop yesterday’s pains from becoming todays’ and tomorrow’s!”

“How can we put into words just how much we are indebted to these meant and how brave they were. The exhibition portrays all that the war entailed in the very essence of those from Quarry Bank. Very good, thank you.”

“These men and women went to fight to help us, and some of us don’t think it’s a big deal but to my eyes these people saved me and if I have met them I would thank them for their bravery. Ben aged 13.”

Men over the top night

“The exhibition is pitched perfectly. By being at a personal level you can revisit historical details you know and can get something new from there. The display is poignant and meaningful and allowed me to explore the ideas and events of WW1 with my 7 year old son. Thank You.”

“Very moving and humbling to read of the family and their sacrifices in the Great War”

“Enjoyed this immensely! Interesting to hear about the men who gave their lives for us in the context of their home and family. Makes it all real as it indeed was.”

“What a moving glimpse of the FWW through one family’s courageous experiences. I was so astonished by the quality and detail in Madge’s diary, what a fantastic use of turning her experiences good and bad into something positive.”

“Wonderful exhibition of true stories about the Greg family. Very informative and compassionate.”

“This is a very moving account of the involvement of a family; the loss of 2 of 3 sons touched me deeply, and I feel that the whole account showed great sensitivity.”

Heroes of Adventure is on display until Sunday 16 November.


‘Turns out it was probably part of a cupboard…’

September 15, 2014

Back in July I got an excited phone call from Ally: “Hello! I think you need to come over the Archive, we’ve received a really interesting donation!”.

I arrived in the archive to find Ally, and our then Oral History intern Sarah, heads bowed over the table examining the mystery item, which turned out to be a lock and key. Doesn’t sound particularly exciting, but this lock is very special in design and we believed it to be part of one of the original doors that existed in the Mill before it was turned into offices or units for various companies in the mid-20th century. At that time there were roughly twenty different local companies working out of the Mill, including Robert Greg & Co., Styal Engineering, WHK Products and Bollin Engineering, who rented Unit 16 from 1956-1965 for £100pa- today it is the location of the Greg Room and the Exhibition Gallery.

Hugh Breland worked for Bollin Engineering, who according to Hugh’s son worked in “precision machining with lathes and milling machines etc., probably only 2 or 3 people I’m guessing in the early days at the Mill.” In 1965 after an unsuccessful attempt to renegotiate the lease, Bollin Engineering moved to Macclesfield. However it seems Hugh took a keepsake of his time at Quarry Bank; the lock and key. Hugh’s son has kindly donated the lock to us, and we have added it to our collection. Ally and I assumed that the lock belonged to one of the original doors in the Mill, but couldn’t work out which one.



Ally made some enquiries in other museums about the lock, and we were lucky enough to receive a reply from The Locksmith’s House, part of the Black Country Living Museum. They informed us it was a ‘stock lock’, and as the key has a ‘wire bow’ (the ‘handle’ of the key as it were), it is likely that the lock was made in the Georgian era, which means it was created for the Mill in the first 50 years of its existence.


The ‘bit’ of the key – the part which locks/unlocks the mechanism – has been made in the continental style of the time – the ‘S’ shape, which was used to prevent the wrong key entering the lock. The shank of the key has a hole at the end and slots onto a pin on the lock and acts as a bearing for the key to turn on.

The mystery of which door the lock belonged to has been solved – it wasn’t part of a door at all, as the expert from Locksmith’s House pointed out that the lock only operates from one side, and therefore would have been used for something like a cupboard. Sadly we don’t know what happened to the cupboard or if it had belonged to the Gregs when the Mill was still owned and run by them.


Hugh also took several photos of Quarry Bank during his nine year stint, including those below of his friend Roger Lowe’s car workshop that operated out of the Inner Mill Yard, where the toilets are located today!

Hugh Breland Photos

Hugh Breland photos3


The Mill Series 2 – “My Morning as an Extra”

August 24, 2014

For the second series of The Mill, filming actually took place on one of the machine floors; the Weaving Shed. Darlow Smithson Productions wanted the scenes to look as realistic as possible, and so when the story moved into the Weaving Shed to follow Susannah Bate returning to work, it was important that our historic looms were used in the shot. To ensure that the machines were run properly and gave the best possible effect for the scene, our own National Trust staff became extras!

Clare Brown, our Machine Interpretation Supervisor, was dressed in the costume of a mill weaver and had the part of a non-speaking actor for the scene…

It was an early start on Thursday 1st May; I had an appointment with wardrobe at 7am. My costume fitted perfectly and for a mill workers outfit really well made. Next stop was with the hair and make-up department, to my horror I had my hair slicked back with Vaseline; I had to demonstrate to visitors in the afternoon! The Vaseline was followed by make-up to emphasise my dark circles and black shoe polish on my neck, hands and arms to give the impression I don’t wash regularly.

Clare in her usual uniform

Clare in her usual uniform

My main concern was the boot polish then getting on the cloth, being woven on the looms which we sell in our shop, so every time they added some I then wiped as much off on to my apron – very naughty! Breakfast followed with a full English on offer, I went with bacon and toast which was just as well as I hadn’t finished my last bite before we were called up to be inspected. The costumes for all the weaving extras were given the okay and we were then led to the Mill.

Clare in costume

Clare in costume

A really eerie glow had been created over the Weaving Shed, with all the electric lights removed and the lighting provided by large lamps set up outside on the path. The bottom fence had been removed so there was room for all the filming equipment and camera men, sound man, director, producer etc. Without giving too much away the first scene involved a lot of setting the looms on and then switching them off again. My job was then to reset the looms so they were safe to put back on for the next scene. The time this took between scenes varied depending on the number of reeds knocked out and shuttles trapped. Luckily there was only one broken thread that needed mending, but took longer than normal because of the strange lighting!


The second scene saw the arrival of the character Susannah played by Holly Lucas, and a child. I then had to instruct Holly on what she should be doing to give the illusion she was a proper weaver. This scene was really quick and took very few takes.

The filming in the weaving shed came to an end everybody clapped Holly, apparently it was her last scene. Technically it was mine too, should I have been clapped as well? Back into my uniform and baby wiped clean and hair dry shampooed, I was ready to get back to my day job. I did enjoy the experience, it went a lot quicker than I expected and there were very few takes which helped. I would have liked to have kept my costume on for the rest of the day but to be honest it would have been a bit of a health and safety issue!

You can see our historic looms in action if you come and visit us, and you may even see Clare!


The Mill – Series 2 – best behind the scenes photos

August 24, 2014

Back at the end of April, Darlow Smithson were in their final week of filming the second series of The Mill, and I took it upon myself to loiter around the set taking photo after photo after photo. In the end I had around 300 pictures and one slightly irked producer after I accidentally wandered in front of a camera before they were due to start filming, leading him to jokingly say “Laura, if you’re planning on being in this shot then I think we need to get you to wardrobe and make-up…”.  Sadly, he took my positive response as joke. Of course it was all for you lot and fans of series, and so I hope you think my loitering was worth it…


The ‘apprentices’ head down the hill to start their day of filming


A practice run for the scene where John Howlett breaks the line. Ciaran Griffiths (plays Matthew Boon) is clearly enthralled…



A few extra touches of bruising for Matthew McNulty


The rest of the extras are brought in


John Howlett (Mark Frost) in his Special Constable costume and his sons (Ewan Philips and Joshua Isherwood) on standby


“Cross this line and be a knobstick forever.”


Sope Dirisu (Peter) and Ewan Philips (Timothy Howlett) deep in conversation, as visitors wander through to the cafe!


Seems Esther (Kerrie Hayes) is still not happy with John Howlett (Mark Frost) as Lucy (Katherine Rose Morley) looks on


Dirty looks are thrown Peter’s way by John


The 19th century saw some real leaps and bounds in technology…


Something James Windell (Justin Salinger) has said has really tickled Master William (Andrew Lee Potts)


Kerrie Hayes (Esther) has a quick break in between scenes


Mark Frost spotted me and my frantic photo taking and kindly smiled for the camera. Behind, Andrew Lee Potts and Justin Salinger share a joke with Jenny from the costume department


Even after the fifth time of having to walk up the hill, the actors were still giving it their all with their singing


James Windell (Justin Salinger) and John Howlett (Mark Frost) look remarkably relaxed for two men about to watch their striking workers re-enter the Mill



“Toil, brother, toil!”


This was fantastic to watch – all I could see was the gun slowly emerge from the kitchen door of the Apprentice House as Peter (Sope Dirisu) backed away


Will Lucy (Katherine Rose Morley) get her man in series 3?


The ‘knobsticks’ arrive to take on the strikers


George Windell (Morgan Watkins) doesn’t seem phased about the carnage about to unfold


I’m not too sure about Kerrie Hayes’ headgear, but I suspect it was something to do with protecting her wig. Mark Strepan (Will Whittaker) practising his best catwalk poses…


Lots of grumbling and shouting came from the group to get into the mood before confronting the strikers (that’s Quarry Bank House – home to the Greg family in the background)


“Do you think we’ll stand by and watch you steal our jobs?”


Er, well it seems Daniel (Matthew McNulty) is actually “sitting by” in this photo, while Esther (Kerrie Hayes) sinks her teeth into a poor extra


A quick reset of the scene – once again Mark Frost (John Howlett) spots me snapping away, while Mark Strepan (Will Whittaker) has his hair professionally dishevelled by the make-up department. Kerrie Hayes is still practising her bite scene.


Ahhh see they’re great friends really (Mark Frost and Mark Strepan)


This time John Howlett joins Daniel Bate for a little lie down – it’s all got a bit much…


Will Whittaker (Mark Strepan) shows a ‘knobstick’ what’s what in this action shot


Well that’s it for another series! Fingers crossed for Series 3 – has everyone enjoyed Series 2?




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 158 other followers