Uncertain liabilities – testing times at Quarry Bank


As always the archive team here at Quarry Bank, headed by Ally Tsilika, have been working very hard as they continue to catalogue our fantastic collection of the Greg’s personal and business papers.

A few months ago the content of a letter, on loan to us, caught the eye of archive volunteer Danika Lloyd; the letter was written by Ernest Greg to his daughter Helen on 29 April 1934, just four months before Ernest’s death.

Original handwritten letter on headed notepaper
Letter from Ernest Greg to his daughter

In the letter he expresses his worries about the future of the Mill, which had just lost one of its best customers; he writes “this is very serious for me, as the mill can’t continue without orders”, he goes on to consider the finances and costs surrounding the business.

“This looks as if it would be better to face up a certain loss of £50 or £60 a year or more rather than uncertain liabilities in preventing the manager and others from starving, there is no work for them if we stop… It is a worrying problem and I don’t know what to do about it.”

The letter continues
The letter continues

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 had sparked a global recession and by 1933, unemployment in Britain had reached 2.5 million, which represented 25 percent of the workforce.  The Industrial North was hit hard by the depression and there was increasing competition from cotton producers in other countries.  In this context, Ernest’s worry for the fate of his workforce should the Mill have to close, is very understandable.

Ernest was able to keep the mill open, thanks in no small part to Samuel Henshall, who managed the mill during this difficult period.  Henshall modified the looms in so that by the late 1930s laundry bags could be produced and Quarry Bank remained operational on a small scale until 1959.

Ernest’s son Alexander Carlton Greg donated Quarry Bank Mill, Styal Village and the surrounding estate and woodland to the National Trust in 1939, a few years after Ernest’s death.

black and white picture of Alexander Carlton Greg in later life
Alexander Carlton Greg

The discovery of the contents of Ernest’s letter delighted Quarry Bank’s former Oral History Intern Sarah Hollingdale, who said she had heard rumours that Ernest Greg had wanted to carry on business at a loss, out of concern for his employees, but that the letter was very exciting because she had never before seen any documentary proof of this.

It certainly seems the ethos of fairness and care for the employees of Quarry Bank extended far beyond Ernest’s Great-Grandfather Samuel Greg, who founded the Mill in 1784.

Discoveries like these letters come from the work to catalogue the archive, which is all part of the Quarry Bank Project.   By clicking the link you can find out more about the project and how the stories we continue to discover in the archive, will shape the future of Quarry Bank.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Kara says:

    Very interesting find. I didn’t realise there were such caring mill owners in history!

  2. Cainhurst says:

    Great discovery, neat article!

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