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New Life in Quarry Bank Gardens

February 27, 2015

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. Sarah 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. IMG_2425

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.
QB House view from top garden 2010

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:

IMG_2512 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). 1872 OS detail  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. P1030779 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. 20150120_083825-1 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

Meet the Learning Interns

February 20, 2015

In my earlier blog post I introduced myself (Visitor Experience Intern) and the Archives/Collections Interns, Josh and Helen. But there are more friendly, new faces at Quarry Bank, as Learning Interns, Sarah, Suzanne and Laura, are working hard to give school groups and children fantastic, and of course educational, days out.

I now hand over to Sarah, who tells you a little more about what the girls get up to on a daily basis…

Generally, as I come in on a closed day and an open day, I spend one day doing admin things in the office, answering the phones, sending emails, booking in schools and coming up with timetables for their day and doing invoices. On the days when we have schools in I’ve been shadowing guided tours but I’m about to start guiding them myself – ahh! However there’s no such thing as an average day in the Learning Office and you never can predict what’s going to happen or what you’re going to get up to, which is why I love it!

I love being super busy and enjoy admin work, as I’m naturally very organised haha. I like the fact I get to talk to lots of different people too and I love working with children. I think my favourite day so far was actually the day I got thrown in at the deep end when Julie (Quarry Bank’s Learning & Interpretation Assistant) wasn’t in and I had to take responsibility for the Learning Office. It was a little stressful at first and I felt a bit like a headless chicken but everything went well in the end and it actually gave me confidence, making me realise that I do know what I’m doing (after people reassured me I didn’t look like a headless chicken!).

Suzanne told me she is loving working in a busy heritage Learning Office and experiencing the similarities and differences to her previous job of primary school teaching.


This week, being half-term, Quarry Bank is without the usual chaotic cheer that the schoolchildren bring. However, the learning team have enjoyed seeing children make the most of Quarry Bank with their families.  Throughout the week the interns have been helping to put on half-term craft activities, including making Shaun the Sheep wild art and origami animal trackers. I caught up with Becky, a volunteer in the learning department, who was helping today in the family activity room.

P1010977Becky tells me:

I can honestly say volunteering at Quarry Bank has been a really enlightening and rewarding experience. I’m able to get hands on experience and share my passion for all things heritage with hundreds of children on some days. What I really enjoy is being part of such a varied learning program, which allows children to learn about industrial heritage in an interactive way.

I also enjoy getting parents and teachers directly involved with demonstrating life at Quarry Bank Mill through role playing and acting as if the children are apprentices working in the Mill.  We assign the children jobs, such as carrying the can or doffing the mule and then pay the apprentices’ wages in the Mill Manager’s Office (imaginary of course).

Working with children is never predicatble. Here are the Learning Interns funniest moments with the school children so far:

1) When walking up the hill to the Apprentice House, one little girl who found it all a bit too exhausting exclaimed, “It must have been so hard being a Victorian, they had to walk up and down and left and right all the time!”.

2) Becky was surprised that when she asked a group of schoolchildren, “Do you think you would you like to work in the Mill?”, they all screamed yes.

3) And my favourite, a not so flattering question the Learning Interns often get asked, when giving tours around the Mill is, “Did you used to work in the mill?”.

If you’re interested in intern or volunteer opportunities for the National Trust check out the links below.



More Progress at Nether Alderley Mill

February 12, 2015

For this weeks post I hand over to Bruce Williams, one of our power volunteers, who gives us a further update on what’s been going on behind the scenes during the closed season at Nether Alderley Mill, a corn mill built in the 1500s and Quarry Bank’s rustic sister property.

T Mitchell

As we shared with you in an earlier post, the stone block supporting the main vertical shaft and one side of the lower water wheel has shifted, such that the bearing at the bottom of the vertical shaft is wearing unevenly. In time this would do irreparable damage, so the Norfolk Millwright Alliance are setting to work remedying the faults. In order to do this, the weight has to be lifted from the stone block, which means lifting the vertical shaft, and the shaft of the lower waterwheel.

First, the lower great spur wheel (consisting of cast iron teeth mounted on an oak wheel and supported on cross shafts, which pass through the vertical shaft – bolted together with handmade bolts and angled brace struts) was dismantled and removed from the vertical shaft. Everything came apart easily, and the parts (see below) have been removed to the workshop to be renovated. The cross shafts, in poor repair, will be replaced and the oaken sections of the wheel will be inspected very carefully to ensure that they are suitable to be refitted, if not, they will be replaced. Cleaning and inspection of the cast iron gear is also planned; the bolts will be renovated, as some were bent and one or two showed signs of earlier repair.

 NAM 1

Once the Structural Engineer had been to inspect the support stone to determine what needed to be done to stabilise it, the vertical shaft was lifted out of its lower bearing using a chain hoist, attached to one of the main beams in the Mill. The upper bearing proved to be a simple wooden block, which will be replaced with a metal bearing when the machinery is reassembled. The lower bearing was then removed from the support plate, and can be seen to be slightly oval rather than round, so has been taken to the workshop for renovation.



The main beam which held the upper bearing of the vertical shaft and stretched across the lower wheel pit was not replaced during the restoration of the Mill a couple of years ago, but was in poor condition and not fit to be used for any lifting. As this is the only possible support for lifting the lower wheel shaft, it had to be replaced, so the Millwrights made a new oak beam, and having removed the old beam, carefully lifted it into place.


NAM 12

Now it was possible to rig chain hoists to lift the lower water wheel axle out of its bearing, though because of the weight of the cast iron pit wheel and the water wheel the new beam was also supported with an acro prop from the wall of the lower wheel pit. In order to get the shaft horizontal, the end of the shaft had to be lifted 75mm, which is some indication of the amount that the support stone had sunk. Once the shaft was lifted, the bearing could be removed. Both the gudgeon pin on the shaft and the bearing proved to be in very good condition and will need no reconditioning.

NAM 14

The support plate for both bearings was then removed from the support stone, so that once the Structural Engineer has defined what needs to be done to stabilise the stone, the work can be carried out in preparation for rebuilding the mechanism.

More later . . .


If Bruce’s update has inspired you to visit Nether Alderley you can check out the web page here:

Meet the Interns

February 3, 2015

I’m handing over to Sophie for this post, our new Visitor Experience Intern.

Hello! My name is Sophie and I’ll be bringing you behind the scenes sneak-peeks, tales of the staff and volunteers hard work in the Mill and across the estate, and lots more stories from the goldmine that is Quarry Bank’s archive.

I was lucky enough to join the team back in November, as part of the Visitor Experience department. Since then I have had all sorts of tasks to be getting on with: digitally cataloguing press cuttings, updating Quarry Bank’s Facebook page, writing and editing articles for the website and fun with some power tools, helping to install the beautiful new exhibition, ‘Drawn out of Love’, (see last weeks post). I also assist Kate (Visitor Experience Officer) with answering inquiries, taking group bookings and all sorts of event prep.

What I really love about my role is the variety; each day is different and gives me the opportunity to work in an environment steeped in history, with so much more to uncover and share with people just like you. Working at Quarry Bank has already given me so much back-of-house experience of working in a busy National Trust property and I am excited at the prospect of preparing for Quarry Bank’s busy Easter and May Day events, as we approach Spring.

Now we are very much in the swing of the New Year (or trying our best to be), I look forward to a new project, of my very own, cataloguing the Quarry Bank Collection online, to give you all access to the many weird and wonderful objects in the Mill and Apprentice House, as well as the ones hidden away with Ally (Collections and Archives Officer) in the Curatorial department. Helping me to do this will be Quarry Bank’s Collections and Archives Interns, Helen and Josh, who have been busy photographing and labeling the collection, ready for me to upload to the National Trust collections website, which you can view here:


Helen tells us a bit more about what they’ve been up to during their internships:

We’ve been slowly working through the collection with our volunteer photographer, Nick King, having an archive ‘photo shoot’ each week, so Sophie can digitise them. We’ve photographed everything, from old games of draughts, to fragile barely-there garden tools from the apprentice garden. I’m also very excited to be transcribing letters – it is incredible to be reading the philosophies of British politicians and finding out about the trials and tribulations of the Greg’s. Josh and I have had some debates whilst deciphering what a particular scrawled word actually says.

And Josh adds:

Photographing the collection is really important as it gives greater access to the collections currently in store.  Instead of the current limited access, people will be able to enjoy the whole collection, on a system which has the ability to display over 5000 objects. Digital cataloguing also ensures the objects at Quarry Bank are, not only available today, but are safeguarded for future generations.


I’ll leave you with our top moments as interns so far:

– Escaping the office to gather information and chat to volunteers for an article about Quarry Bank’s winter walks.

– Getting competitive with a Christmas quiz at the Volunteer party.

-Learning all about the Quarry Bank project and the exciting plans for development in the future.

-Transcribing a letter, written to Robert Hyde Greg, from radical liberal reformer Richard Cobden.

– Navigating Santa’s sleigh across some creaky floorboards to the events store cupboard.

– Installing the new exhibition, ‘Drawn out of Love’, using a very modern spirit-level – an iPhone!

– Venturing out to the very grand (and cold) Lyme Park for a Cadbury’s Easter training day.

– And of course, lots of sweet treats that find their way up to the staff corridor…

Look out for a blog post about Quarry Bank’s Learning Interns very soon.

If you like the sound of interning for the National Trust, follow the link below to search for current opportunities across the country.



Drawn Out Of Love – our new exhibition

January 25, 2015

Last week Laura left Quarry Bank and we wish her great success in her new ventures. My name is Kate and I’m the Visitor Experience Officer here, I’ll be carrying on Laura’s work and sending out the blog with the help of Sophie Kembrey our Visitor Experience Intern.

Our brand new exhibition ‘Drawn Out Of Love’ has now opened and explores the lives and works of artists and spouses Barbara Greg and Norman Janes.

Barbara Greg & Norman Janes

Barbara Greg & Norman Janes

Barbara, born in 1900, was the daughter of Henry Philips Greg, who owned and ran Albert Mill, at Reddish, part of the Greg family’s business empire. She was the great-great-granddaughter of Samuel Greg.

Barbara grew up in Styal, and at the age of 19 was allowed to leave home to pursue her dream of becoming a professional artist, enrolling at the Slade School of Fine Art, and subsequently attending the Westminster School of Art and the Central School of Art. It was unusual for Edwardian parents to allow their daughters such freedom, but the Greg family had always encouraged liberal thought and self-improvement. Without the support from her family it would have been almost impossible for Barbara to forge her way as a professional artist.

Cat and Birds by Barbara Greg

Cat and Birds by Barbara Greg

It was whilst at the Slade that she met her future husband, Norman Janes. Norman was born in 1892, in Egham, Surrey, and came from a less wealthy background than Barbara. At 17 he joined the art school of the Regent St. Polytechnic and then, after five years in the army, which came to an end following a wound whilst on active service, he enrolled at the Slade. In his autobiography Norman recalls:

“I went to the Slade and survived the ordeal of an interview with the grim Tonks, who sniffed at my drawings but admitted me. (Next day he took me to one side and gave me a demonstration of what he meant by drawing)”.

The Professor of drawing, Henry Tonks, thought of as the ‘high priest’ of ‘pure drawing’, certainly seems to be a force to be reckoned with. Norman seems not to have been deterred however and returned to the Slade some years later, only this time as a teacher. I’m sure he proved to be a much kinder interviewer than the formidable Tonks.

Barbara’s letter to Norman, written from Styal, offers an endearing portrayal of their growing love:

“Do you remember at the Slade picnic going to sleep with your head on my lap and me combing your hair – I often think of you like that”.

Despite Norman’s different social background and financial instability, the Greg’s treated him as one of their own. Henry Philips Greg (Barbara’s father) was a so-called ‘big-wheel’ on the Manchester art scene and was Treasurer of the Whitworth art gallery. Barbara’s parents actively supported Norman in his chosen career, buying him his own printing press, even before the couple were married.

There is a hint that Norman may have felt some discomfort at their generosity. Barbara drew a picture of Norman using the press in one of her letters, in which she wrote to him:

“You must not think of offering to pay part of the press (sweet as it is of you) it is a Christmas present from my people (her family) – the price does not worry them at all they wanted to give you a good press”.

Printing Press

Barbara and Norman were eventually married in 1925. Barbara no longer lived the privileged lifestyle that she had grown up in and had to adjust to running a less affluent household in London, a willing, although perhaps difficult sacrifice.

They moved to Hampstead Heath and were happy living in an artistic community, where they went on to have three children, Julia, Michael and Marian. Norman supported the family further through his teaching.


After The Rain, Charring Cross, 1933, engraving by Norman Janes

After The Rain, Charring Cross, 1933, engraving by Norman Janes

In pursuing their chosen careers, they accepted the financial insecurities that would be the consequence of this decision. Barbara resolves:

“It will be mighty hard work but I shall like it”.

They supported each other in their work and would give the other pieces to review and critique. Barbara wrote to Norman in 1924, before they were married, lovingly explaining:

“I do not think I should be doing what I am now if it had not been for the encouragement you gave me at times when my work seemed no good at all and as though nothing would ever come of it. You have been the making of me in more ways than one”.

Such devotion is again shown by Barbara, in a letter to Norman, in which she drew the couple reuniting at Euston station in London – you can see the hastily drawn love note below.

As well as drawing inspiration from each other, Barbara and Norman looked to nature, industry and their three children. Barbara, in particular, used nature as a source of inspiration, and in 1949 she received the most important commission of her life from Ian Niall, to produce the wood engravings that would illustrate his new book The Poacher’s Handbook. The book was so successful, and Barbara’s work so admired by Ian, that he commissioned her to illustrate his next two books, Fresh Woods and Pastures New.

Dapple Deer, wood engraving by Barbara Greg

Dapple Deer, wood engraving by Barbara Greg

The couple’s love of nature can be seen in the last line of one of Norman’s letters:

“I love you, little lady mine, and kiss you a long goodnight. Your Faun”.

With plenty more beautiful etchings and sketches to see, ‘Drawn Out Of Love’, on display at Quarry Bank until 19 April, explores in more detail the lives of Barbara and Norman, a couple united by their love of art.

With kind thanks to the Janes family for loaning the artwork, and for the images used in this blog.


Kate, Sophie and Laura

Piecing together Robert and Mary’s Romance

January 12, 2015

Well folks, this is my last ever blog post as I leave Quarry Bank for pastures new, and I have decided to end my tenure as blog creator & editor by returning once more to one of my favourite stories from the archive; the romance of Robert Hyde Greg and Mary Phillips, and I warn you this is going to be a long post, so get yourselves comfy first!

Bit by bit, discovery by discovery the cataloguing project has pieced together their courtship. Before the cataloguing project began, in February 2013 I was rooting around the archive (with due care and attention of course) and came across a letter from Robert to Mary, seemingly expressing his relief and happiness that Mary had finally accepted his hand in marriage. At the time Ally (our Collections and Archives Officer) and I were pleasantly surprised, as what we knew of Robert was that he was a particularly grumpy old man.

Robert Hyde Greg

Robert Hyde Greg

As the cataloguing project progressed, more letters about their courtship in early 1824 emerged, from Robert to Mary, from the Greg family to Robert offering advice in one form or another, and recently we acquired an indefinite loan which contained Mary’s letters to Robert during that period, which I was poring over just before Christmas.

The Phillips and the Greg family had been friends for some years, but it was only in the winter of 1823/24 that Robert and Mary began to turn towards romance, and 1824 began with Robert persistently inviting Mary, and her sisters, to attend parties with him in Manchester. Their romantic relationship progressed quickly, and from what I can make out from their letters, they became engaged, or had at least discussed marriage, at the end of January/ beginning of February. From what I can tell, Robert had to propose to Mary, or bring up the question of becoming engaged at least four times, and Mary’s initial response was what fated them to be together:

“The first time, I doubt not you know well when it was, my hand was on the very point of returning to its owner. Had it done so it probably would never again have been extended towards you, but in the way of friendship and that of a colder kind than had before existed, at least on my side. The fate of both my dear Mary, strange to say, hung on half a second of time, and from that instant and I can say not till then I took my final resolution of acting.”

Mary Philips

Mary Philips

Their relationship was not a smooth one however, with Mary constantly concerned that she would not be a good enough wife for Robert, and as such she seemingly tried to distance herself from him lest she be later disappointed. At the beginning of February Robert had sent Mary a present which she almost immediately returned to him, whilst revealing a little of what had passed between them:

“Mark has [Mary’s brother], this evening brought me a note from you, accompanied by what you call a “memento” of yourself.

You say that “it comes from a friend, who would do much to serve me, and, yet, have to win my good opinion”.

To be candid, I may say that you, already, have my good opinion – if it were otherwise, how could I have allowed you to act, & how could I have acted myself as each has done within the last month?

…I return what you kindly intended as a memento. Real friends will be remembered in absence without “the aid of external objects””

Robert was offended by Mary’s gesture, and was quick to ensure that she did consider him as her “Real friend”:

“By returning my little present, you give the severest reproof possible to me for if you ought not to receive it much less ought I to have offered it…

Now if by “real friend” you mean one who is anxious to share every pleasure to soothe every distress, is able to sympathise in every feeling, and who would gladly risk life, reputation and fortune to protect and make happy, then I do not hesitate to say that such a friend I am ambitious to be, would have been, and will be, if you will receive me as such. I am willing to be such, through life, through evil report & through good report”

Mary had at this point travelled to London to stay with friends, something which had unsettled Robert, but Mary’s response soothed him greatly:

“The description you have given me of yourself as to me a “real friend”, has forcibly found a way to my heart, and awful as I feel the situation in which it places me, I nevertheless look upon it with a degree of interest, I may say pleasure, in which you alone can sympathise.

Yes, I receive you as my friend, and when I tell you so, I feel as if I were signing my destiny of this worlds pleasures and pains.”

Robert responded with one of his typically long letters:

“You are right my dear Mary, in saying that by your letter you have signed your fate… our fates are now completely united, as they ever will be and ever can be, it is that assurance which makes me now feel happy by anticipation, could I but for a moment imagine the contrary, I should feel the thought like the stab… “

Quarry Bank House where Robert lived with his parents and sisters, and where he first proposed to Mary

Quarry Bank House where Robert lived with his parents and sisters, and where he first proposed to Mary

He went on to try and alleviate her fears that she could never provide the same level of happiness that he had at home at Quarry Bank, where his mother, Hannah Greg, and his sisters catered for his every whim. Indeed, Mary’s competence at domestic life was called into question by her brother, and one of Robert’s closest friends, Mark when he wrote to congratulate Robert on his engagement:

“You will find her a good wife and I wish I could add a good housewife, but as I know that you & I think alike upon the latter point she will improve when she knows that you attach a value to good management in household affairs.”

As we found out a few weeks ago, Robert’s eldest brother Thomas Tylston Greg was also surprised at Robert’s choice of wife, believing that Robert would have picked Mary’s sister Esther, or one of his former love interests, whom Thomas esteemed highly. Thomas was also surprised that Robert was interested in romance and love at all, and believed his younger brother would only have married to further the Greg family’s business prospects.

Thomas' less than complimentary letter about Mary

Thomas’ less than complimentary letter about Mary

How wrong Thomas was, for Robert admitted to Mary in one of his earlier letters:

“Well, as you think you know me I am sure my dear Mary, you do not know, and no one knows, what affection I am capable of feeling, where I think it will meet with a kind return, and where I am sure that I am not sowing kindness to reap sorrow.

Mary, conquered her fears of being unable to make Robert happy thanks to his efforts to reassure her, and soon Robert was pressing her to fix a date for the wedding. Mary was feeling further conflicted about the wedding, as she felt great guilt at planning her future happiness when two of her sisters, Elizabeth and Jessy, were severely ill:

“My beloved friend, there are awful & imposing thoughts which so fill the mind, as that others appear in comparison trite & unsatisfactory. Oh, Robert, if you knew how awfully my mind hangs suspended between death & marriage, the unnatural struggling of my thoughts between these two greatest events of humanity, I am sure you would pity me, indeed, indeed, with all the composure I strive for, & with all the resignation I pray for, I cannot calm my troubled thoughts.”

This Mary wrote at the end of April, after Robert had seemingly managed to convince her that they must marry at the very latest in the middle of May. Robert had been imploring Mary throughout the end of February and most of March to cut her London visit short as, (from what I can make out from his letters – perhaps someone can enlighten me further?), the law stated that a bride had to reside at her parents house for one month before marrying. Furthermore, Robert had to be back at Quarry Bank at the end of July, and wanted at least a month and a half for their tour of Switzerland, leaving the middle of May as the last possible point at which they could marry.

In fact, Robert desired them to be married as soon as possible, and stated so in every following letter, whilst asserting that he was in no way trying to pressure Mary. Mary, who seems quite sensible to me, wanted Robert to meet her in London at her friend Mrs Richards’ house, in order that they might have some time together alone, something which had never before occurred, to ensure they really could enjoy one another’s company. There are no letters between the end of February and middle of March between the couple, during which time Robert had gone to visit Mary, and their spending time together was obviously successful, for it was from then onwards that Robert urged Mary to agree to fix a date.

“As to our future plans my dearest Mary I would not till hearing again from you have said another word but that I heard of dresses ordered and time fixed when in Nottingham and from the quarter it came from I am sure it originated at the Park [Mary’s home, and Robert probably means her sisters] and of course on good authority.

As to myself my dear Mary, I could say much had I time for it. Till I can call you my wife I shall not again be myself for now every thought past and present and every future prospect is so interwoven with your image that I am quite unfit for any serious occupation, and have no attention to bestow upon business however pressing.

Since passing so many days in your company, so many hours at your side, I feel I cannot live much longer without you and grow very insistent, more impatient to be united to you forever, yes Mary that is till death parts us to meet once more I trust really forever. I repeat to you now what I told you in London that I am sure I have a better chance of heaven with you for my companion than I had or should have with anyone but you, to deserve that, and your affection my dearest Mary will I sincerely hope ever be my strong desire.”

Talk about coming on strong, and it seems that Mary had simply vaguely mentioned her assumptions about the date of their marriage to her sisters, based on Robert’s need to return to business by the end of July.

“You, then, proceed to quote the words “time fixed” in reference to our mutual engagement. Now, this is not my fixing, as I have always intended this should be determined upon when I was surrounded by my own family as Counsellors and guides by your wish and approbation. I cannot, & will not deny, that, I may have confronted, & even, mentioned to particular friends, the probable time, in a month or two, when we shall be more to one another than we are now. And when you, in the most kind &, considerate way, told me one day as we were walking together in town, that, you must be returned to Manchester by the 1st August & of course, I could not help drawing the inference that the time when our fates would be one, could not be far distant… it seems as if May, or June, must terminate our single existence.”

If you think Mary sounds less than thrilled about her upcoming nuptials, I would tend to agree, but I think this owes more to her conflicting thoughts about being a good wife, that she hadn’t managed to completely shake, than a lack of love for Robert. She was often so self-deprecating in her letters that Robert was forced to reply to her worries as such:

“As to all the kind things my dearest Mary has said and written about allowing me to change my mind & break off any engagement & which being said sincerely as I am sure it was, I will now save you any further generous offers of a similar nature, by assuring you that I think more highly of you in every respect and love you far more dearly since my London visit, than I did before & therefore it is not possible that I should soon reject, what I now more than ever, passionately desire… So my dear love no more on that matter, or I shall think you do it for the sake of parade. Nothing can arise but from yourself to prevent your being my wife..”

Robert Hyde Greg

Robert Hyde Greg

To reassure you that she did in fact love Robert, here is a quote that Mary copied out in the same letter where she seemed so indifferent about the date of their wedding:

““Behold two friends, endeared, the one to the other, by the nobleness of their common pursuits; inseparable Companions, a life exquisitely sensible to all the Integrity and all the Delicacy of Friendship; it was their study not to flatter, but, to improve each other; &, as they passed this life, while their Cheerfulness beguiled the tediousness of the way, the Fidelity of their mutual counsel, rendered it secure from danger; &, thus, were they advancing, with a rapid & uninterrupted progress, to Perfection””

However, Mary was less than impressed when she learned that Robert had told his single sisters that two of them could join Robert and Mary’s tour of Switzerland:

“You mention what, sooner or later, must be, & then speak of what I have ever, from my earliest infancy, looked forward to with delight – a tour thro’ Switzerland, & now I know comes more & more of my selfishness, because, I can well fancy the pleasure this would afford your sisters, & yet, I am but sure that I should not like to encounter any further society in that occasion than your own. I feel perhaps, if I know how I feel, as if I required to be thrown entirely upon you as my friend & support.”

Yet Robert had clearly backed himself into a corner with his sisters, and replied:

“As to our companions I may perhaps think that it would be pleasanter to myself to devote myself to you entirely on the journey without any other being to divide my attention and had nothing been said previously to my Sisters it would have been easy to have complied with your wish and as to your feelings I comprehend and appreciate them. But the case is now different. They know it is my intention to take two of them with us, should I decline taking them now, they will perceive that they lose their journey because you wish to be without them. This Mary would be unpleasant to you, I am sure, you would be continually wishing for them whilst you were away, blaming yourself for being the cause of them not participating in the pleasure you were yourself enjoying and when you came home, you would never mention your tour in their presence without a painful feeling of regret. If therefore their company be an evil to you, still it is a less one than leaving them behind under present circumstances.”

The words “passive aggressive” spring to mind.

In April of 1824, Robert was able to send to Mary her resized engagement ring, and this was the letter I stumbled across nearly two years ago, in which Robert offered excessive expressions of his delight at their upcoming marriage:

“I return your ring, “the fatal ring” as you call it, and I will not object to the term. It has been fatal not to my hopes however, but to my fears, not to my peace of mind, but to my anxieties, not to my repose, but to the miserable agitation I was in when I first offered it to your acceptance. With what different feelings my dear Mary I now send it to you!”

Robert's letter to Mary concerning the "fatal ring"

Robert’s letter to Mary concerning the “fatal ring”

The letter in which Mary expressed her distress regarding her sisters’ health, is the last of Mary’s letters before their marriage that we hold, and demonstrates the closeness and love that the two held for each other:

“My confidingness in your friendship & affections is a comfortable & an increasing feeling within me. I am continually wanting you near me to speak to you even my nothings, I find the thought of not seeing you again until Wednesday very uncomfortable. In all ways, my feelings are so painfully on the sketch, that, not to be able to communicate them to my best & dearest friend, is in itself a great additional anxiety. I am almost frightened by the sympathy. I require, I fear, to frighten you by saying so, & yet I love you too well to keep from you any thing which I can tell you. Would, my dear forbearing friend, that you were now at my elbow & rather than 40 miles from me, then could I speak instead of write, & hear your kind allowance & have your soothing reply instead of the noiseless response of my paper.”

After the trials of their engagement; being separated, the illness of Mary’s sisters, the attempts to fix the date of their marriage, and Mary’s insecurities; the couple married at Prestwich on 14 June 1824 (a month after Robert desired). Initially they lived at King Street, Manchester, in a house given to them by Samuel Greg as a wedding present, along with their own carriage. They remained there for a few years, before moving into Norcliffe Hall, built by Robert for his growing family, which by 1835 would include six children: Robert Philips Greg (Robin), Edward Hyde Greg (Ted), Caroline Greg (Carry), Hannah Sophia Greg (Sophy), Henry Russell Greg, and Arthur Greg (Arty).

Mary Philips in later life

Mary Philips in later life

Robert and Mary were married for nearly 70 years, and throughout her life, Mary recorded annually on her birthday what had passed each year, and her husband was always a source of happiness:

“29th May 1848. Today I am 49. My dear husband, the husband of my youth and choice is still with me, and, this blessing alone speaks volumes.”

“14th June 1850 – Our Wedding Day-
We have been married 26 years more than half my life. What a long time to have my dear and busy husband. How inexorable is fate, how momentous, how unnerving, the events she brings in her train- marriages- births- grey hairs- wrinkles, old age- and how sadly would the scene close, were we not in hope of another life.”

Robert Hyde Greg in later life

Robert Hyde Greg in later life

It was wonderful to finally piece together their courtship through their letters, and goes to show what remarkable stories are currently tucked away safely in our archives ready to be discovered by our volunteers.

It has been a real pleasure sharing the stories of Quarry Bank with you all, and I hope you continue to follow all things Quarry Bank past, present, and future here on the blog.


“Sorrow & succeeded dependence…bind us closely together” – life after Hannah Greg

January 9, 2015

I’ve been burying myself in the archive in the run up to Christmas and these first few days of 2015, working my way through a wonderful set of letters that have entered the archive on an indefinite loan. The loan includes letters, photos, and post cards belonging to the Greg family, and were in the care of Madge Greg until her death in 1992. The photos and postcards date to WW1, which was fantastic for us to continue our research into the Greg family’s experiences, but even more excitingly, Madge had inherited letters belonging to her great-grandparents, Robert Hyde Greg and Mary Phillips, as well as some that belonged to Robert and Mary’s children, and Robert’s siblings, from the 1820s to the 1840s.

Yesterday I started work on the set of letters that belonged to Samuel Greg Jr, written to him whilst he was on his Grand Tour of Europe, and I quickly realised with a jolt that the letters were all from his siblings and related to the recent passing of their mother, Hannah Greg.

Hannah Greg in later life

Hannah Greg in later life

The letter that I transcribed yesterday was dated February 15th 1828, from Samuel Jr’s elder sister Agnes, who it seems, had previously not been able to face the prospect of writing to anyone, unlike their younger sister Ellen:

“Her heart indeed is so full that I have been glad that she has been the most frequent correspondent. Mine has been too much shut up to be a satisfactory one, but sorrow & succeeded dependence must ultimately whatever may be their first effects bind us closely together.”

Hannah had died at Quarry Bank on 4th February at the age of 61, in her bedroom, after several bouts of sickness. Ellen recalled that Hannah had suffered from an “attack of Gallstones”, and that Dr Holland believed her too weak to recover.

Samuel Greg Jr

Samuel Greg Jr

Agnes wrote to Samuel Jr that their eldest brother Thomas Tylston Greg had travelled from London to be with the family, and recalled they had spent many evenings discussing their memories of their mother, and her final weeks:

“More particularly concerning Mama’s late illness on recalling things that she has said & done during the last months which now seem to say that she was more aware than we were of the approaching change. Upon the whole we had thought her better & in better spirits since Christmas than sometime before, & our evenings more particularly had been cheerful. She had read aloud a good deal & talked more the last Sunday evening. The last evening that she ever sat with us indeed, she seemed particularly cheerful… I distinctly remember her saying that she did not envy the young, particularly those who were only commencing their career, & had all the business of labour of life before them, that Old Age had many privileges.”

Agnes believed that Hannah had over exerted herself at the beginning of the year:

“She had not been out except on the flags, & it was while walking… that she caught cold which was the more immediate cause of the illness we imagine, a fortnight before however, she had tried & overdone herself & perhaps that had more to do with it than we were aware of. She had been to Church in the carriage in the morning, & to Chapel in the afternoon, after which finding Papa inclined to talk, she walked with him in the gardens for a very considerable time, the conversation was at the time a relief to her mind & she seemed to have enjoyed it but was tired & low during the next few days.”

Quarry Bank House in the nineteenth-century overlooking Quarry Bank Gardens

Quarry Bank House and gardens, where Hannah spent her final days

It seems that the Mill workers, who owed a great deal to Hannah for their comparably better treatment and education at Quarry Bank, were sensitive to her condition in her final days, and Agnes’ report has me imagining the workers walking past Quarry Bank House on their tiptoes or very slowly as to avoid their clogs making their usual noise:

“The Mill Bells never rang during the whole of the last week of Mama’s illness, nor do we recollect hearing any noise. Papa sent word afterwards to express how much he was obliged.”

The siblings were all concerned about their father, Samuel, but all were relieved as:

“Papa is better than we could have hoped, the 3 last days he has been in the Mill & Mechanics shop, & is much interested in a loom the model of which he is making over, where he has been sat two weeks until a late hour. The weather too, tho cold is favourable to him & his health is tolerable, the children too are now an amusement, & the preparations for Robert’s building [Norcliffe Hall], at times he is silent & low, but much more generally is employed & his tones & manner cheerful. Reading is a great resource & we have been fortunate in having some interesting Books.”

Agnes continued her letter with some gentle mocking of Samuel Jr’s love life whilst on his Grand Tour, and expressed her hopes that he would still be able to enjoy his time in Europe despite Hannah’s passing. After Agnes had signed off, Ellen and their sister-in law Mary (Robert Hyde Greg’s wife), squeezed in a couple of lines of their own:

“My best wishes & prayers are with you dearest Sam, you dwell in my thoughts as if present, perhaps more so, a better friend with you may He bless. Yours always, Ellen.”

“Let me show you in my own handwriting that tho’ absent and distant you are still very kindly remembered & during a late time of trial been often thought of by Mary P Greg.”

I know this hasn’t been the cheeriest of posts to kick off 2015, but I felt it showed how close the Greg family were, and how they always looked out for one another, even when they were scattered across the world. It also continues to show the importance of our cataloguing project, and adds to the excellent insights we have gained into the personal lives of the Gregs and the workers.

I can promise you a much more upbeat post at the beginning of next week, relating to the same loan, which helps us finally complete a piece of Greg family history that I have been exploring since early 2013!



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