Through the Keyhole in Styal Village

A couple of weeks ago I gave you a behind the scenes look inside Quarry Bank House, and we all saw how the other half lived as it were. Well today, I had to go into No. 13 Oak Cottage, in Styal Village, known to us at Quarry Bank as the ‘pickled cottage’. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to show you the workers lived, in contrast to their employers. (


13 Oak Cottages
13 Oak Cottage

Before the arrival of Samuel Greg and Quarry Bank Mill, Styal was a small agricultural village.From 1790, Samuel expanded the village beginning with the conversion of several barns. In 1806–1822 he built several terraced cottages with allotments. Samuel carefully planned the village to ensure his workers had a healthy environment for, of course, healthy workers meant productive workers. The cottages were quite comfortable compared to the cramped, unsanitary conditions of accommodation in the towns.

The main bedroom
The main bedroom

The cottages usually had a cellar, parlour, scullery and two upstairs bedrooms, and each had its own backyard and privy, a significant sanitary advantage over the houses in the towns, where often one privy was shared by an entire street. Rent was deducted straight from their wages every Friday.

The front room
The parlour


The scullery
The scullery

There was often more than one family living in a cottage at a time. For example, at No. 5 Oak Cottage in the late 1830s was occupied by the Howlett family whilst the cellar was occupied by the Holts and Esther Price. In most cases it was one family of 6-7 people living in a cottage, sometimes up to 14 people. Smaller families could have a cottage with individual lodgers or elderly or widowed mothers with their children (no more than 3 people). This, compared to the towns were there were reported cases of 30 people to one cellar.

The cellars in Styal were mainly used by small families (in most cases no more than 5 people, but in one of them there was once 8 people living in a cellar). They were also used for storing stone e.g. by James Hope who worked on Cross Farm and one was a preaching cellar.  Another cellar was listed as being used to store a handloom, which shows some people were still working from home. The cellar at No. 13 acted as a launderette and a fish and chip shop in the same week in the early 20th century!


The cellar in No. 13
The cellar in No. 13

To feed his growing workforce, Samuel Greg founded the village shop in the early 1800s under the ‘truck’ system – rather than paying in cash, the shopkeeper would keep a record of all purchases which would then be deducted from the mill workers’ salaries. Villagers could buy all their daily needs in the shop, including freshly churned butter and freshly baked bread, as well as other little luxuries such as clothes and tea. In 1873 the shop became a Co-operative, run by the workers. The fields in and around the village were farmed by two  families of tenant farmers. Both farms – Cross Farm and Oak Farm – cultivated a whole range of fresh food, from dairy, poultry and pork to cereals and root crops.

Samuel’s wife, Hannah, was incredibly concerned with the education of the workers and their children and helped to set up Styal Primary School in 1823, some decades before education for factory children was made compulsory. Evening classes were also made available for the adult workers of the mill. There was also a Sick Club which workers could pay into, and a Women’s Club – the first known organised women’s society in the United Kingdom.

Styal shop
Styal shop

I know that poor old No. 13 looks quite unloved at the moment, just remember of course that the villagers would have taken great pride in their homes. You can see what they would have looked like when the workers lived in the cottages by visiting us and heading to the Mill Worker’s World gallery in the Mill, where we have a recreation of a cottage.

Styal Village in the 19th century
Styal Village in the 19th century

Sadly we don’t currently have the money to spruce it up, but as part of the Quarry Bank Project, we are hoping to restore the cottage to its 19th century appearance so that visitors can experience both sides of life at Quarry Bank – mill owner and mill worker. You can help us achieve this goal by donating to the Quarry Bank Appeal:


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