This week Helen our Collections and Archive Intern discovered some letters written by workers at Quarry Bank. I could not wait to find out more, so over to Helen.
Working in the archives, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the day to day experiences of the workers at the mill amongst the many records we have of the Greg family. Thankfully, there are also innumerable snippets of social history tucked away that act as timely reminders of the lives of those working here. As I learnt last week, the sources of these snippets are often completely unexpected.
Whilst sifting through the Worker’s Records, you can’t help but hear each individual’s personality coming through and to me their voices could not have been clearer than in several thank you letters written to Margaret Greg in 1857 after a trip to the Art Treasures Exhibition.
These letters are such a welcome change from the usual Victorian formality that runs through much of the Greg family correspondences. Instead, the workers enthuse about their visit, writing just as they would talk.
They don’t hesitate in telling Mrs Greg about their amusement at some of the pieces on display. One worker, Margaret Walker, writes, ‘…we saw some potrates[sic.] that looked very amusing we went to see the Indian Tent we were muched[sic.] amused with all in that room especially the slippers that were turend[sic.] up at the toes’.
Mary Henshall candidly tells Margaret Greg that ‘there was some very laughable pictures in one room’. This is exactly why I love these little pieces- they’re entirely different from the norm. They’re so conversational that reading them is really like hearing the writers of these letters describing their visit to their own families.
Amusingly, each letter almost uniformly begins or ends with an apology. As Mary Moore writes, ‘I am very sorry that I did not write to you before now you made me a presend[sic.] which I was very much oblige to you for’.
At first, reading these, some of which are identical word for word, it was funny to imagine a bemused Margaret Greg receiving these and noticing the pattern. But as you go on, you realise that the task of writing a letter was no mean feat for the average worker.
Reading the letters, it looks like one or two family members, possibly possessing a greater grasp of grammar, had been asked to produce template letters, which have then been carefully copied down by others.
Nevertheless, Quarry Bank Mill workers enjoyed a fuller education than most working class communities, where the hope of even being able to write was entirely distant.
The really charming thing about these letters is that despite being templates, the workers would often insert their own descriptions or tangents amongst the copied text, and it’s these bursts of personality coming through that make the letters so interesting.
Hannah Mary Venables’ voice is unmistakable, where she writes that she ‘saw so many of the visiters[sic.] noticing a group of Ladies [and] gentlemen whilst one of the gentlemen was talking very fast pointing out the paintings to them. We was informed that they wer[sic.] the Royal family of Wertemberg [Wurttemberg]’.
There are also moving glimpses into quite how much the workers valued the trip, with Mary Henshall writing, ‘The musicians began to play at two o’clock and we sat down and listened and I am sure I never heard any music so beautiful as that before’.
The Gregs were known for their unusually generous treatment of their workers, and these letters are the perfect examples of that generosity.
The Art Treasures Exhibition itself was a huge event, displaying fine art from all over the world, and is still considered to be one of the largest art exhibitions the UK has ever seen.
What’s more, it was not held in London, but instead on the outskirts of industrial Manchester at Old Trafford. This building, designed to resemble London’s extravagant Crystal Palace, once dominated the area near what is now the site of Manchester United’s stadium.
The exhibition’s approach to its visitors was also somewhat progressive- we know that the admission ticket was reduced from half a crown, to sixpence when entering after 2pm in an attempt to entice a broader range of society to visit rather than targeting only the middle and upper classes.
Although this scheme was abandoned due to a lack of revenue, it signalled a change in prejudiced attitudes towards the working classes, where they were being increasingly seen as part of society rather than beneath it. There’s no doubt that the workers’ enjoyment of the exhibition proves the worth of their visit.
These letters certainly give you a fascinating and fresh perspective of the personalities that have helped to form the story of the mill and the opportunity they shared to experience Victorian grandeur.
The work done in the archive as part of the Quarry Bank Project is helping us to discover more about Quarry Bank and it’s history. To find out more about the project, please visit our website.
In Power Volunteer Bruce’s last blog about Nether Alderley Mill, the important restoration work was part way through and a tremendous amount of work was being done. Bruce continues the story here.
We left Nether Alderley Mill with the vertical shaft lifted out of its bearings and supported on a chain hoist, and the lower water wheel axle lifted 75mm and also supported on chain hoists.
Since then, a block of resin based cement has been installed on the top of the support stone both to raise and to level the bearing surface. This cement, when fully cured, can support around 60 tons, so should cope with the weight of the mill machinery – about 5 tons for the lower water wheel, probably slightly less for the vertical shaft when fully rebuilt.
In addition, further to stabilise the support stone, holes were drilled in it to a depth of 1.5 metres into the bedrock, and 30 mm steel bars were inserted and grouted into place so that the stone should not be able to move again.
Meanwhile, back in their workshop, the Norfolk Millwright Alliance had been working on the various items removed to renovate where possible, repair where necessary, and prepare replacements where the originals were beyond repair.
Also, while waiting for the work on the support stone to be complete, the millwrights installed a new pentrough (a trough made of wooden boards which carries the water) for the lower wheel, as the old one had let more water fall onto the back of the wheel than went down to drive the wheel!
They also installed a spillway below the pentrough, in order that water deliberately spilled to prevent the wheel from turning, is now directed away from the wheel – this will make the mechanism much more efficient.
Now for the reconstruction! First the support plate and the bearings for the lower wheel and the bottom of the vertical shaft were refitted on the new, level, surface, and the waterwheel axle bolted into its bearing.
Then the vertical shaft was carefully lifted into its bearing and delicately moved, millimetre by millimetre, until the wallower engaged properly with the pit wheel, and the shaft itself was exactly vertical.
The new top bearing was then fitted to the new beam, and the vertical shaft was fixed and ready for the next stage.
The original compass arms which support the great spur wheel were both broken, so new ones have been made from oak.
In addition, the wooden sections of the great spur wheel have been repaired. There were many holes through the sections, which indicated that in the past the iron track plates had been moved on several occasions – all of these had to be filled.
Where necessary, damaged sections were replaced with new oak so that when the wheel was replaced it would be possible to get it exactly circular.
Once the sections had been bolted together, they were then bolted to the compass arms, and the careful work to measure what needed to be done to get it both circular and horizontal started. In one place a few millimetres needed to be removed from the circumference, but in another a fillet had to be made to increase the circumference by about 20 mm in the middle, tapering to nothing at the ends.
The track plates could now be fitted – these were carefully spaced so that the gap between the teeth was consistent all round, which had not been the case before it was dismantled.
As these teeth engage with the vampire gear (which transfers the drive from the lower wheel to the shaft driving the mill stones), it was also necessary to lift the vampire gear to accommodate the fact that the great spur wheel is now higher than it was. The axle of the vampire gear is now horizontal, rather than sloping down towards the great spur wheel.
It would be good to report that that was the finish – but on testing the mechanism when being driven by the waterwheel, it was found to be not quite right – so the track plates came off again, the great spur wheel was further modified, the track plates refitted.
On further testing, it was still not quite right, so the cycle was repeated until it was deemed to be as good as it could be. The mechanism now runs much more smoothly, much more easily, and much more quietly than it has ever done, so the millwrights can be proud of their attention to detail, and their determination to “get it right”.
Unfortunately the mechanism was completed only on the Tuesday before our season opening day on Thursday, so it has not been possible to set up the millstones in order to be able to mill grain into flour yet – but this will be done as soon as possible.
Nether Alderley Mill is open on Thu, Sat and Sun from 1-4pm until October
Hello everyone, my name is Emma and I am the project coordinator for the Quarry Bank Project. Over the next few years I will be joining the blogging team to relay all the wonderful things happening with the Quarry Bank Project.
As you may be aware, back in January, Quarry Bank was awarded a £3.9million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Of course we were ecstatic and it has taken some time to bring us down from cloud 9.
I expect that you are all thinking why has Quarry Bank been given such a generous amount of money?
In 2006, the National Trust acquired Quarry Bank House, home to Samuel Greg and his family. Again, in 2010, we were able to bring the Upper Garden, glasshouse and Gardener’s Cottage back into the fold.
By acquiring these missing parts of the estate, we now have the opportunity to bring the whole site to life and tell the complete story of the Industrial Revolution. We will be providing access, to parts of the estate never before seen by the public, including Quarry Bank House and a Worker’s Cottage.
We will be restoring long lost historic pathways through the Northern Woods, restoring the 1830s derelict glasshouse and creating better orientation and access across the site with new footpaths and a new welcome building. That’s not all; we will be refreshing the mill and inserting an external lift that will provide access for all to all five levels of the mill. Don’t worry Quarry Bank will be open throughout this work and you be able to watch as we transform the site.
This project is more than restoring the physical landscape, it is about people, the people who once lived and worked here and the people who enjoy Quarry Bank today…you.
We will research, catalogue, digitise and properly store the archive and use the stories to create new exhibitions both here and online, for you to enjoy. We will create exciting and innovative exhibitions and events that will make you want to return again and again.
The project also aims to engage with the community in ways that we never have before. We will be working with Primary schools to support their curriculum and getting young children to engage with their local heritage.
We will be working with training bodies and higher education to provide opportunities for people to learn new skills in catering, hospitality and cultural heritage. We will also be attending local events to keep you up-to-date with all the goings on at Quarry Bank.
With the expansion of things to see and do at Quarry Bank, we will need more of your fantastic support. We have hundreds of volunteers who are very excited and enthusiastic about our ambitious plans, why not join them?
Over the course of the project, we will be developing 21 new roles in addition to the current volunteering offer. So there will be something for everyone to get involved with.
Are you excited yet? Like us, we want everything to happen now so you can experience all these fascinating benefits; however, this project will take four years to complete, so bear with us as we begin the work. Don’t worry though; I will be here to provide updates on our progress.
In my next post, I will reveal what will be happening over the next 12 months and beyond.
One more thing, the Heritage Lottery Fund gave us a generous £3.9million but the overall cost of the project is £9.45million. For our dreams to be realised we need to raise £1.9million through a public appeal. We are half way to reaching this total, please help us with the final push. Do visit the website to see how you can help us.
Museums are like icebergs, what you see is only a fraction of what is really there. Quarry Bank is no exception and in the unassuming rooms at the back of the Mill, which house the collection and archive, are many intriguing items.
The Drawn Out of Love exhibition has taught me a lot about artistic printing so when Ally our Collections and Archive Officer told me about our collection of over 1,500 textile printing blocks, I couldn’t wait to have a look.
Beautifully designed, our collection of wooden printing blocks were used for a very different purpose to those in the exhibition. These textile printing blocks were used to print patterns onto cotton fabric, which was then exported around the world.
Most of the blocks in the collection date to the late 19th century and the influence of trade, particularly throughout what was then the British Empire, can be seen.
As you can see the blocks are designed in reverse so when dye is added and the block pressed onto the fabric, the design will appear the right way round.
The Greg family used them to identify cloth which came from Quarry Bank. This block, probably 20th century, reads R.G (for Greg) & co. Quarry Bank Mills and has the Greg family crest in the centre.
Some have elaborate designs.
Others are more practical, giving the type of cloth.
Others are carved with patterns, each block coming together with the others to build up a design.
One particularly complicated pattern is made up of 70 individual blocks, each of which states the colour to be used when printing.
While we therefore know what colour the overall pattern would have been, unfortunately they are not numbered, so we don’t know what order they should go in!
Trying to piece them together would be like doing a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces look very similar and without any idea of what the final picture should look like.
I can only imagine how painstaking this kind of pattern would have been to hand print. They certainly must have had steady hands.
Blocks like this would have been used to print textiles for upholstery and the finished results may have looked something like this.
Most of the blocks were produced locally and are an important part of the textile history of the North West.
Caring for objects like these, part of our extensive archive and collection, is a very important aspect of the work the National Trust do here at Quarry Bank. I very much look forward to bringing you more behind the scenes stories.
If you feel inspired to have a go at printing why not try our printing workshop for adult beginners with artist Lily Cheetham, this Sunday 2-4pm
Dr Peter Holland, not only mixed with the gentry, but also showed concern for the poor. Developing a large practice in the Knutsford area, as well as working for the Leicesters at Tabley, the Stanleys at Alderly and the Egertons at Tatton, he was the family medical practioner for the Greg family and took responsibility for the medical care of the Greg’s apprentice children.
Dr Holland requested that certain products were always kept in stock in the Apprentice House Medical cupboard and in this week’s post, Philip Charnley, Garden and Archive volunteer, tells you about his research into the medicinal uses of plants within the Apprentice House. So lets hand over to Phillip:
As well as looking into the recorded treatment of the apprentices, I have also been helping Ann Gaughaun (Deputy Head Gardener) with the medical uses of herbs and plants grown in the Apprentice House garden. Plants have always been, and still are, important for their medical properties and many of the plant items on Dr Holland’s list would have been available in the garden adjoining the house or in the local hedgerows.
Rhubarb and camomile are the most used items. Rhubarb was and is in fact still used in stomach mixtures and camomile was used to soothe and calm. It is still widely used today, most popularly as Camomile Tea and in sleeping aids to help the person relax . Camomile eye wash was used on Hannah Riley, an apprentice, on 14th Aug 1819. Camomile tea was given to John Robinson, apprentice, 4th Nov 1812 and a camomile poultice was applied to Ann Davies, apprentice, on New Year’s day 1815.
There are many references to Laudanum and Poppy Heads were kept in the store cupboard. I doubt if they made their own Laudanum from these but the use of this morphine based product on young children was not uncommon. Digitalis (from the foxglove plant) was also used and William Wyatt, apprentice, was given this on 2nd Oct 1823. He had been very ill for some time and sadly died 2 weeks later.
Other plants that were regularly used include Ginger, Sage, Peppermint and Spearmint, Juniper and Horehound. Ann hopes to do a lot of replanting in the Apprentice House garden in 2015 and more stories of the plants, children and their treatments will be incorporated into displays and information boards.
Look out for displays on the plants in the Apprentice Garden soon. If you have any questions on your visit, the gardening team, including volunteers, are very friendly, so please do ask.
Rather excitingly, at the end of last month, Ellie Harrison, Countryfile presenter, visited Quarry Bank to film for an episode of the programme, which will air this Sunday (8 March).
As it is National Apprentice Week from 9-13 March, she chatted to Quarry Bank’s Clare Brown (Machine Interpretation Supervisor) and discovered what life was like for apprentices working at the Mill. Clare tells me she even had Ellie scavenging on the floor looking for cotton, like an apprentice.
Ellie also took time to speak to Tony Williamson, a former Quarry Bank Building and Estate Apprentice, who has been working on the recent repairs to the Bell and Clock Tower. If you have visited Quarry Bank since October you will probably have noticed that the Tower has been clad in scaffolding, whilst our Estate Buildings Team assessed the state of the timbers supporting the Tower dome, the structure of the bell, and the clock face and set about making repairs.
The Tower has now been brought back to life by Tony and Jerry Veale, Quarry Bank’s Buildings Supervisor, with the help of a team of contractors. The ivy-covered Mill in the picture below shows what the Tower would have looked in 1901.
I spoke to Tim Marshall, Regional Buildings Surveyor, who filled me in on the progress of the Tower. Tim explained that the lower bell (the one that would have been rung to call the apprentices to work), was taken by himself to John Taylor & Co., The Loughborough Bell Foundry, pictured below, to be repaired.
It was also discovered that the top bell is a John Taylor bell, dating back to 1895. It was commissioned for a Church in Newport, South Wales, but was returned after it was found too small, before being sent to a company call Joyce’s, who sold it to the Gregs. The bell was installed in 1900 in memory of Arthur Greg (below), who sadly died of pneumonia and pleurisy in 1899. He was the son of Robert Hyde Greg and managed the mill in Eagley, Bolton.
On a visit to Quarry Bank you might well have noticed that the Tower is in fact wonky. Look out for this in the episode on Sunday if you haven’t noticed it before. Tim emphasised the importance of maintaining, rather than correcting, the Tower’s unique slant, so as to keep the character of the property. That said, it was vital that the structure be stabilised and so the stone work round the clock face was replaced by Stone Mason, Neil Andrews and Jerry and Tony took care of the joinery. You can see the transformation their craft has made in pictures below.
Now it was time for the finishing touches. In the picture below, Jerry stands beside the brand new clock face. The face was replaced, as the existing face would have suffered damage if the paint had been stripped. Contractors painted the clock and no detail was spared, as they even used gold leaf for the numerals and clock hands.
Of course, during restoration projects like this, it’s never a case of out with the old, in with the new. Ally Tsilika, Quarry Bank’s Archives and Collections Officer, talks to me about the new acquisitions in the Quarry Bank collection since the restoration, explaining:
We have acquired the clock face, which may be the original. It was in very poor condition so it was decided to remove the original and keep it in the stores for preservation. The same was decided for the finial, which was rotten and large chunks missing. It was more appropriate to replace them and have new ones created rather than try to conserve the old ones, which can be used as references for future work too. We also acquired the clapper for the bell.
You can see the stark contrast between the old clock face and the new, but it is a wonderful thought that we still have the original safely preserved. The ball finial is pictured below and it is clear how badly it needed attention. Back in January, Josh, Collections and Archives Intern, was having fun adding such an unusual object to the collection.
Watch Clare and Tony in this Sunday’s (8 March) episode of Countryfile, at 7pm on BBC1. The scaffolding that you will see in the episode has now been taken down, so remember to look up to the newly refreshed Clock Tower on your next visit to Quarry Bank and listen out for the chime on the hour once more.
A few weeks ago I had a lovely morning wandering around Quarry Bank’s gardens on a tour for staff and volunteers, by Sarah Witts (below), the Head Gardener here at Quarry Bank. There certainly have been a lot of changes and huge effort has been put in, by both the garden staff and volunteers, to get the garden ready for our visitors this February. I was lucky enough to get a preview. On the tour, Sarah updated us on what’s been happening over the winter period. Sarah explained that the first task was the mammoth job of clearing all the leaves, cutting back, mulching and general tidying. Garden kiosk staff were very pleased to see that the Holly trees in the Lower Garden have been cleared. In a happy coincidence, they have let more light into the kiosk, as well as restoring the view across the meadow and helping to link the garden, the Greg house and the Mill together into one landscape, as it would have been when the Greg’s lived at Quarry Bank. The rockery, below a small hollow in the rock, known as the cave, has been meticulously dismantled (I’m told rock by rock) and reconstructed by volunteers, ready for fresh alpine planting very soon. In this area a stone bench is also being built, which, come Easter time, will offer a fantastic view over the garden, across the meadow and towards the Mill.
Of course, we were all bursting to know about the next restoration steps, now that Quarry Bank has received a huge boost from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards our fundraising target for the project. As the exciting prospect of opening the Greg house will be realised over the next few years, Sarah explained that the grass above the rockery, leading to the house, will be made into a path, once more giving access to the garden. I had a lovely image in my head of the lucky Greg children rushing out to play in their sprawling garden, when Sarah told us this.
As we climbed up the path, I got my first glimpse of the Upper Garden. Thanks to the Oglesby Charitable Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and other generous supporters this area will gradually be reclaimed as the kitchen garden, a plot which once fed the Greg family. As we looked back towards the Mill, admiring the 350 Hypericum plants (Rose of Sharon), which have been planted on the cliff top, amongst a coir membrane to stabilise the bank, a group of volunteers told me that what they found most satisfying was knowing that, thanks to the generous support we have received, all of the speculative plans for the garden will be happening, in the not so distant future. The next big task is to raise the remaining money we need to restore Quarry Bank’s neglected cast-iron glasshouse, in the right of the picture below, to its former glory. Every little helps, so if you’d like to donate to the glasshouse appeal click the link below: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/quarry-bank/our-work/article-1355850074351/
In the Upper Garden, there are also plans to remove the apple trees, as they no longer bear fruit and replant a row of heritage apple trees along the walls of the plot. The mulberry tree will be kept and more planted alongside it, the idea being to encourage people to enjoy eating mulberries once more. Now out of fashion, mulberries were once very popular and used as a remedy to cure all sorts of ills. Dr Holland (the Mill’s Doctor) may well have used mulberries to treat the apprentice children. Look out for the ‘humble mulberry’, as Shakespeare described it, at Quarry Bank soon. Beyond the kitchen garden, in an area, which was known as the West wall slips (a space for growing extra vegetables for the Greg’s, which didn’t need the shelter of the three walls enclosing the plot), the gardeners have planted a nuttery, containing 23 Filbert Nut trees. Looking at the plans of the garden it is assumed that the Greg’s would have had a very similar nuttery, which you can see in the 1872 map below. The nuttery is located to the left of the glasshouse (the building coloured red). Underneath the nut trees the gardeners have sown wild flower seeds and 5000 Daffodils, which will look absolutley stunning come Spring. Sarah also pointed out a new shrub border, which features: Viburnum tinus (Garrya elliptica), Cornus alba (Westonbirt), Myrtus communis and Ribes sanguineum (White Icicle). Stefan Roberts, one of Quarry Bank’s gardeners, shares his knowledge on what to look out for in the garden this Spring: Spring bulbs are emerging in the lawns, as well as the borders. First to arrive and open now are the native Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) and Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemali), which is a little yellow flower above a ring of leaves. There are also Snowflakes (Leucojum verum), similar to a Snowdrop, but the petals have a spot of green at the tip and the flower shape looks like a lampshade, Winter Iris (Reticulata), in blue and purple varieties and finally Crocus, which are beginning to emerge around the Tennis Lawn. Winter and early spring flowering shrubs include spicy scented Witch Hazel and the show stopper, our pink Camelia, growing along the riverside, which is always the first to flower. Other plants to look out for include, hardy Ferns, flowering Hellebores and Cyclamen. Pansies and Bellis (daisy), in the formal Ladies’ Garden, will also soon begin to bulk up and flower. There has also been progress up at the Apprentice House Garden, which is managed as a working allotment, once tended by apprentice children, so don’t forget to take a look before or after an Apprentice House tour. Ann Gaughan, Assistant Head Gardener, explains that the focus has been on tidying and clearing beds ready for Spring and making sure that the repairs to the drains have settled in. New edging boards have been put in around the vegetable beds and this year some of the beds will be given time to dry out after the particularly wet winter. Don’t forget to check out the Snowdrops in the orchard, which Ann tells me are looking lovely at the moment. Here’s a sneak-peek from Ann below. Why not come along to visit Quarry Bank gardens, open right the way through until Autumn. For children there is a tracker pack, including binoculars and magnyfying glasses, which can be picked up from the Garden kiosk. Sophie x