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‘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?



Children of The Mill by David Hanson

August 17, 2014

To accompany the second series of The Mill, a book has been released which explores the lives of the apprentices at Quarry Bank, from the beginnings of the apprentice system in the 1790s, to its end in 1847. The book is called Children of The Mill, by David Hanson. Back in July we held a book launch at Quarry Bank, and David spent a sunny afternoon signing hundreds of books for eager visitors, from the comfort of the Mill Manager’s Office. I caught up with David during a lull in signings to find out the story behind the book.

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David happily signs copies of his brand new book (Courtesy of Nick King)

David’s first connection with Quarry Bank Mill was forged in the summer of 2012 when he was hired by Darlow Smithson Productions and Channel 4 to go on a fact-finding expedition – his mission was to find out whether there would be enough interesting stories in the archives to pull together to create a new drama series – The Mill. The answer was a resounding yes.

One of the first stories that David came across was that of Esther Price. Her experiences had been used as part of the Apprentice House tour for many years, and David could see that the tale of a feisty runaway apprentice girl, determined to get the truth about her age and stand up to her masters, was ready-made for TV. David described Esther as “a real leading light…a real firebrand“, a description I’m sure we can all agree with having encountered both the factual and the fictional Esther.

Esther Price is played by Kerrie Hayes in The Mill (Channel 4 Picture Library/Ryan McNamara)

Esther Price is played by Kerrie Hayes in The Mill (Channel 4 Picture Library/Ryan McNamara)

Another of David’s favourite stories from the archive, were those of the Baker brothers – Job and George, and their mysterious sister Mary-Ann. Job had previously been a very well-behaved apprentice, but one day he ran away entirely out of the blue and out of character – previously he had been used in official reports as an example of  a model apprentice, and that mill work was “not so bad“, as David put it. His younger brother George had proved himself a trouble maker, breaking window after window. In the book “behind the sparse facts of the Mill Memorandum… you can fill their stories in”.

Around the time of Christmas 2013, Emily Dalton, the Executive Producer and co -creator of The Mill, approached David with a new project – would he like to write the book that would accompany Series 2? Again the answer was a resounding yes.

Straight after Christmas, David was here, delving into the archive with Ally, once again mining for those remarkable stories. Fortunately for David we were more than able to provide him with an entire book’s worth. A particular favourite resource of David’s was our collection of oral histories; “you can hear their voices, you don’t have to imagine how they speak”.

David had several aims for the book, and one was to repair the reputation of Charlie Crout, who in Series 1 of The Mill is seen to prey on the young girls he is in charge of, namely Miriam Catterall. In reality there was no evidence to suggest Charlie Crout did anything of this nature, and David found the historical Charlie to be a romantic figure. When he was in his 20s, Charlie married a 48-year-old, childless, widow – clearly he had married for love, and didn’t care for social convention or the expectation that he should settle down with someone of his own age and start a family. After she died, Charlie re-married and did have two daughters. He lived not two doors from the Howletts and Esther Price.

David was very grateful for the time and effort of the volunteers and staff (aka Ally) of the archive; “the stories would have been inaccessible if not for the volunteers“. In particular, he was helped by Keith, Ann and Philip – volunteers who have dedicated years to researching specific areas of Quarry Bank’s history; they also acted as a great sounding board for his writing.

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David with Keith Plant, one of our archive volunteers who helped David with his research (courtesy of Nick King)

When we were chatting I was astonished to learn that David managed to write the 80,000 word book in less than two months. To ensure he met his deadline on time, David worked to a strict schedule, with his background as a TV producer, he found his deadline fairly reasonable “nothing like the deadlines of TV!” David was “determined not to make it dry and historical“, and so he ended up putting himself in the story, taking the reader on a journey of his research. David wanted to make sure that his readers knew that the “author has experienced what they’re talking about. I’ve been round the place so many times – I know what the different rooms in the Apprentice House smell like!”

The result was his debut book; Children of The Mill, which will not only satisfy fans of the showbut also provides a unique exploration of the life of an apprentice at Quarry Bank Mill (rivalled only by an Apprentice House tour…).

You can still pick up a signed copy of the book in our shop, and can order by calling 01625 445 835.

I’m sure if we run out, David will be only too happy to come and sign some more, if only for the sake of being able to take up residence in the Master’s chair in the Mill Manager’s Office once more…


Arthur and Bobby’s medals, home at last – Heroes of Adventure

August 14, 2014

As many of you will know by now, currently at Quarry Bank we have an exhibition on called Heroes of Adventure, which commemorates the experiences of the Greg family, the workers and the villagers in the First World War. Ally and I led on the exhibition and we became very emotionally attached to the people’s stories that we researched. We became incredibly excited when we realised that we had the chance to recover the medals of Arthur and Bobby Greg, which were stolen from the Mill Manger’s Office in the 1978, where they had been kept for decades. Since 1979, they have been held in private collections.

STQBM.88 Shield


Arthur and Bobby both fought and died in the First World War. Arthur was returning from a mission in 1917 with the Royal Flying Corps, when he was shot down and killed instantaneously. Bobby was killed by a shell after only two weeks at the Front, in May 1918.


Arthur and Bobby’s memorial plaques

After the end of the First World War the medals awarded to Arthur and Bobby were requested by and sent to their father Ernest William Greg from the War Office. The medals were subsequently mounted onto a wooden shield-shaped frame with golden-brown velvet backing fabric and glass front, and were possibly originally hung in Norcliffe Hall. The accompanying letters by King George V were also framed.

STQBM.7478 Bobby Greg Victory Medal

Arthur and Bobby both received the Victory Medal


The medals awarded to the brothers were:

  • The two Next of Kin bronze plaques awarded to Arthur and Bobby
  • Arthur’s three medals: the 1914 Star and the British and Victory Medals
  • Bobby’s British and Victory Medals.
STQBM.7473 Arthur Greg Star

Arthur’s 1914 Star

These medals and their documentation, along with a large quantity of family archives and objects, were donated to the National Trust in 1939 by their younger brother Alec Greg, and were on display in the Mill Manager’s Office. However, in March 1978 the medals stolen apart from one – Bobby’s British War Medal. The rest were sold off in later years, but remained together as a collection.

STQBM.424 Bobby Greg British War Medal

Bobby’s British War Medal was the only one left behind after the robbery

Last year the medals came to light and Ally and our Regional Curator, Caroline, worked really hard to recover them and bring them back home.

David Sekers, who was the Museum Director at the time of the theft recounted:

the theft was very upsetting for Alec Greg, as they were such tangible reminders of his elder brothers’.

Finally, the medals are back at Quarry Bank, and now form part of our Heroes of Adventure exhibition. The medals will be on display until Sunday 16 November (and are now alarmed to the back teeth!)

Laura and Ally

Heroes of Adventure – Madge Greg – life as a VAD nurse in WW1

August 8, 2014

On Monday at 10pm the UK brought an end to a day of commemorating the centenary of the First World War by participating in the ‘Lights Out’ event, to remember the lives lost in the conflict. Our exhibition Heroes of Adventure commemorates the involvement of the Greg family, the mill workers and the villagers of Styal. In this post I wanted to tell you all about Madge Greg, whose bravery and commitment as a VAD nurse (Voluntary Auxiliary Detachment of the British Red Cross) meant that thousands of lives were saved and not lost.

Madge kept a scrapbook throughout her time as nurse, and it was an invaluable source to us when curating the exhibition, and we used the look of the scrapbook when designing the panels. It’s also invaluable as it gives us an in-depth look into the life of a VAD nurse in WW1.


Madge had been training as a nurse since 1913, at the age of 21, but as soon as the War broke out she joined the British Red Cross and started training as  VAD nurse at the auxiliary hospital in Wilmslow. After 5 months of training in Cheshire, she was posted into No.2 Unit, and was sent to France on 3rd February along with eleven other nurses. They were immediately posted to the Rest Centre at the Gare Centrale, Boulogne.


The dressing station consisted of eight luggage vans which were used as a kitchen, dispensary, Quartermaster stores, staff room, reserve store, workshop and orderlies room, as well as an improvised shelter. The VAD nurses had to be ready at any moment for an influx of casualties brought in on Ambulance Trains (A.Ts), to change urgent dressings, and provide a fresh change of clothes and refreshments. Madge and the VADs lived in a granary nearby, with furniture they made themselves from whatever they could get their hands on. Within a week Madge was appointed Quartermaster and cook.

Their baptism of fire came mid-March 1915, during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, when the dressing station dealt with 2,000 casualties in 4 days. This would be nothing compared to what she was about to face when the Second Battle of Ypres broke out in April 1915.


April 24th Battle of St. Julian & Hill 60. Canadians coming down. Horrible gas attack at St. Julian broke up native French troops, nasty gap in our line.”

‘April 26th Improvised AT [Ambulance Train] of 830 cases in last night, another with 1000 went out, an evac AT to relieve pressure on HPs [hospital] here. Another improvised AT…has just left with over 1000 Indians…Gen Wilcox asked BRCS [British Red Cross] for VAD Unit to take over a rest station at ABBEVILLE.’

Two days later Madge and her unit were sent to Abbeville, which was almost in sight of the front line.

The dressing station was very under-resourced with ‘only a wooden table in a great draughty goods shed with little enclosure of droopy canvas. 3 boilers & a little office where the dressings are kept.’

The ruins of Ypres

The ruins of Ypres

On 9th May, Madge received news that her brother Arthur had been injured:

“Had wire from Glazebrook [Madge's friend] last night that Arthur is wounded & at No. 7 St. HP. As car was going in from No.3 BCRS, Dr Aylwood got pass for me, got BOULOGNE 4p.m. & was with Arthur from 4:45 to 5:30p.m. He could not speak being hit in jaw but wrote, he has had a bad time on Hill 60 & no sleep the last 3 weeks.”

The damage to Arthur's jaw is visible here

The damage to Arthur’s jaw is visible here

The next day the dressing station tended to 1,750 casualties, but there was no rest, for the early morning of May 11th at 3.30am brought fresh wounded, and the nurses did not rest until 5pm that afternoon.

After Ypres, Madge dealt with a range of injuries, including soldiers who had been burnt in gas attacks. One day she tended to “a head case, an amputation, arm shattered etc., was kept going by a gassed mad Scots Greys man…the head case died, the amputation may do so at any time…my mad-man is a complete lunatic”.

She was afforded some respite when she was allowed sick leave to recover from an injured foot: “the foot and ankle are as large as ever again and a beautiful shade of scarlet but not painful..they got wound up about my foot and gave me a months sick leave“.

Soon after she returned, Madge and her fellow nurses found themselves roped into a completely different line of work:

August 12th: About 6.30p.m Major Meadows dashed in and said that all but one of us must go up to help at the smoke helmet factory, they had a big order on and every hand wanted.”

They spent their time checking that the mitre eye-parts in gas masks were properly fitted.

September brought the Battle of Loos and Madge’s dressing station dealt with 38 A.Ts with a total of 11,021 casualties, and 95 men staying behind; too badly wounded to be moved. The nurses also had to attend to 15 Temporary A.Ts which brought a further 14,332 casualties. Astonishingly the dressing station accomplished this within the space of 6 days.


The dressing station at Abbeville

Madge’s entries for October and November 1915 are sparse, but it seems the nurses managed to make something of Christmas at the Abbeville dressing station. They spent the days before Christmas “decorating surgery for Xmas, orderlies have ‘souvenired’ the only fir tree in the wood on the hill… we had our Xmas dinner, turkey and plum pudding.” The soldiers at the dressing station were all given a present, magazines and cigarettes.

Early 1916 saw a quiet period for the nurses of Abbeville, and Madge was given leave from early February to late April. After spending some time recovering from German measles, she was sent to take over her own dressing station at Hesdigneul-Serquex, south of Amiens, where she would experience the Battle of the Somme.

Serquex dressing station

Madge’s sketch of Serquex dressing station

Madge and her staff of 15, (6 nurses, 1 cook, 2 sergeants, and 6 orderlies), were warned of the expected mass influx of casualties on 25th June when “Col. Russel R.A.M.C and Col. Gray came to see Aid Post to see if we were ready for a rush”. The 1st July 1916 has now become synonymous with the image of men going ‘over the top’, but Madge and her staff spent the day listening to the sound of artillery whilst they prepared dressings and restocked the stores.

On 2nd July, the first A.T. brought 830 men and had all urgent dressings changed and sent on their way again in 30 minutes. More trains arrived in the evening and Madge’s team worked throughout the night until 6.30am the following morning. In two weeks, Madge’s small, makeshift dressing station tended to 10,255 soldiers. She had proved she was capable of extraordinary work and determination and was sent to Buchy a few miles away to set up another dressing station from scratch.

Buchy dressing station

Buchy dressing station is indicated by the pencilled arrow

At Buchy, Madge and her staff lived in railway carriages and survived off bully-beef, biscuits and tea, she described the conditions as “very primitive”. Despite the primitive nature of the dressing station and their living quarters, the work they carried out over the next few months was recognised by Rachel Crowdy, Principal Commandant of VADS for the British Red Cross, and in December 1916, Crowdy wrote to HQ that “…369 treatments have been done… this is the largest number of treatments ever done at any Rest Station during a week, except in times of battle fighting…I put down the enlargement of this station great deal to Greg’s enterprise and energy”.


In April 1917 Madge was surprised to see her younger brother Arthur walk into the dressing station. They went out to tea, and did some shopping for Arthur. Madge wrote home to her parents: “I felt so proud of him and when I walked through the town I was full of reflected glory besides so tall and fine a lad.” Five days later, on 23rd April, Arthur was shot down on a return mission from Germany, Madge was the last family member to see him alive. She found out days later, and her entry simply reads: “8.30p.m got wire from home that Arthur had been killed on 23rd“. There are no further mentions of Arthur or how she felt about his death recorded in her scrapbook.

Madge Greg

Madge Greg

Madge worked as a VAD until May 1917 when her contract ended, and she returned to England, where she worked at the Royal Infirmary Manchester in the outpatients department.

Madge was determined to get back to the front lines, and returned to France in March 1918 as member of staff at the temporary wooden hospital, Queen Alexandra. On March 23rd, she found herself in the firing line when the hospital was shelled and an emergency evacuation of the hospital was executed. She summed up the event as “no sheets, not enough blankets, no medicines, no headboards, no mugs, – pandemonium!

Madge's sketch of the entrance to the hospital

Madge’s sketch of the entrance to the hospital

In April 1918 the Germans renewed the efforts and the hospital worked non-stop, with all wards filled to capacity whilst listening to the ominous sounds of aeroplanes, artillery and shells; “the front ward shakes continually“.

The next month brought more personal tragedy to Madge, when she was “sent for by Matron, the “Times” had come at dinner time and there the announcement of Bob died of wounds, the wire from home arr. one hour after, everyone very nice offered to let me off but Sister Marshall very busy…so stayed on“. Madge at her practical, stoic best.

Madge's sketch of the ward

Madge’s sketch of the ward

By the middle of 1918, the Allies had gained the upper hand and the front line receded from the Channel ports where Madge was stationed. This allowed the nurses to enjoy more well deserved leisure time, and they were able to take trips to Malon and Calais with the patients.

As September of 1918 approached it was clear that the need for VAD nurses had passed, and on the 8th, Madge Greg packed her bags, said goodbye to her friends and set off for England.

Madge’s time as a VAD nurse had ignited a passion for medicine within her, and she trained to become one of the first female doctors in England, specialising in orthopaedics. Yet the war had changed her personality forever. Her niece Margaret remembers her as a very cold, hard and unsympathetic woman, whereas before the war she was remembered by the villagers of Styal as a warm, kind friendly young girl. The efforts and sacrifices made by Madge and her fellow nurses meant thousands of lives were saved throughout the First World War.

Our exhibition Heroes of Adventure is on until Sunday 16th November where you can look through reproductions of Madge’s scrapbooks.


The Mill Series 2 – interviews with Kerrie Hayes, Andrew Lee Potts and Matthew McNulty

August 4, 2014

Have you been enjoying The Mill on Channel 4? Who’s your favourite character at the moment? Whilst they were filming here at Quarry Bank, the National Trust managed to grab some one-on-one time with some of the cast and find out what their thoughts were on their characters and on Series 2.

Warning – the videos contain a few shots of filming from upcoming episodes.

Kerrie Hayes was nominated for BAFTA earlier this year for her performance as Esther Price in Series 1.


Andrew Lee Potts is a Series 2 newcomer and portrays William Greg, who is now running the Mill. You can read more about the real William here:


Matthew McNulty returns as Daniel Bate, Union leader at Quarry Bank and now Chief Engineer at the Mill.


Let me know what you think of The Mill so far in the comments, and ask any burning history questions!



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