Over the past year I have been bringing you stories of Quarry Bank from the past and the present. However, I realise that I’ve never given you a linear account of the history of Quarry Bank, instead delving in and out of some of the more interesting spots in the property’s history – a highlight reel if you will.
So today I decided to dedicate this post to relay a brief history of Quarry Bank, to provide you with the overall story to act as a bit of background information to all the historical nuggets I’ll keep on sharing.
In 1784, Samuel Greg built Quarry Bank Mill on the banks of the River Bollin. He was armed with invaluable business experience, gained working for his merchant uncles, as well as the generous inheritance they had left him. Samuel thus seized the opportunity to take advantage of the desperate need for the expansion and industrialisation of the cotton industry. Quarry Bank Mill was one of the first cotton factories to be built following the lapse of the patent on Richard Arkwright’s water powered spinning machine.
Samuel was soon persuaded to move next to his beloved Mill, and began to build Quarry Bank House in the early 1800s, to the great joy of his wife Hannah, who wanted to raise their growing brood away from Manchester. Development of Quarry Bank Gardens began soon after. It was designed to incorporate both the natural beauty of the river valley with the picturesque views of the Mill towards the top of the valley, a trend which was popular at the time.
In the 1860s, Robert Hyde Greg developed the garden and added several types of rhododendrons, and bred new varieties, naming some of them after his family members. He also added ornamental features including formal flower beds and cast-iron urns. The Ladies’ Garden was also created around the time Robert added to the Garden, and was the designed to be ornately patterned in high Victorian fashion. The Lower Garden is also home to the “Hermit’s Cave”, gouged out by quarry workers, although the Gregs used it to house owls.
With his ever-increasing business Samuel needed an increasingly large workforce. He built cottages in Styal Village for his workers, and the village expanded to include two chapels, a school, a shop, a farm, and a pub. Samuel’s wife Hannah made it her responsibility to guarantee that the workers were provided with a good level of care. It is probable that she was responsible for setting up the Sick Club and The Woman’s Club as well as the Styal Infants School, which was established for the workers’ children.
Over half of the Gregs’ workforce was made up of pauper and orphaned children. The Apprentice House had been built by 1790 by Samuel to house the children. It was designed to house 90 children, who were cared for by a series of husband and wife superintendents. The Apprentice House has a rich history of runaways, accidents and punishments, as well as success stories and the reputation of providing a greater standard of care for its young charges than other mills of the time. In 1847, with increasingly restrictive factory legislation and the rising costs of maintaining a child workforce, the apprentice system at Quarry Bank came to an end. You can read more about the Apprentices here: https://quarrybankmill.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/apprentice-life-at-quarry-bank/
During the 1820s the Mill was doing so well that Samuel expanded not just Quarry Bank Mill but also constructed five other cotton-spinning and weaving mills, employing more than 2,000 people, including his four sons who joined him in the family business. By 1860 Quarry Bank Mill had become the headquarters of one of the largest cotton manufacturing businesses in Britain – an empire of five mills.
The Gregs are often cited as an example of a paternalistic approach to the workforce, yet whilst living conditions in Styal village appeared to have been significantly better than those in the adjacent towns, inside the Mill working conditions were generally barely different. The workers had to accept long hours in unbearably high temperatures, above 20oC, in order to work cotton efficiently. With all the windows tightly shut, the workers inhaled the cotton dust throughout the day which accumulated on their chests causing the incurable lung disease, byssinosis. With long uncomfortable hours, accidents were common; despite Samuel fencing off of most machinery in 1833, some eleven years before this became compulsory by law.
When Samuel died in 1834 the business passed to his sons, and Quarry Bank Mill was under the care of Robert Hyde Greg, who had had a tense relationship with his father. Robert and his brothers had tried to encourage his father to introduce looms to Quarry Bank, but Samuel stoutly refused to revolutionise, and the family only remained held together by Hannah.
Robert introduced weaving to Quarry Bank Mill in 1838, and continued to expand the Mill with a new steam engines and boiler houses, a cloth warehouse, the gas retort house and the weaving sheds. Robert retired in 1870, and passed the management of Quarry Bank Mill to his son, Edward Hyde Greg.
Edward became master of Quarry Bank Mill upon his father’s retirement in difficult circumstances with falling prices and profit margins. This economic downturn lasted three decades and was on a global scale, discouraging expansion and investment, particularly in the coarse production upon which the Mill concentrated. The situation worsened due to increased foreign competition which affected the export markets upon which the industry had been largely dependent for most of the 19th century. The Mill’s orders and sales declined, and losses were made annually from 1880 – 1899
The business would continue down the Greg line to Edward’s son, Robert Alexander Greg, in the early 1900s, until Robert’s nephew Alexander Carlton Greg inherited the Mill. However, Alec had built a life for himself as a farmer and with the business was failing, in 1939, he donated Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Estate to the National Trust. The Mill continued to run until 1959, with just thirteen workers.
So there you have it, the briefest account I could give you of Quarry Bank’s rich history. You can find out more by visiting us, having a look at our website, and of course here on the blog!