Quarry Bank Mill - History and Facts | History Hit

Quarry Bank Mill

Peta Stamper

07 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Quarry Bank Mill

Quarry Bank Mill is one of the best surviving bastions of the Industrial Revolution, situated near Manchester in Styal, England. Quarry Bank Mill was established by the wealthy and experienced Samuel Greg, soon becoming a site notable for its innovations in machinery and attitude towards labour relations.

Today, the mill is run by the National Trust and operates the mill as a museum to English industrial heritage. The site has been classed as a Grade II listed building and by the EU as of “outstanding national and international importance”.

Quarry Bank Mill history

Built in 1784, the Quarry Bank cotton mill was constructed on land leased by Samuel Greg who wanted to keep the surrounding area woodland. The location was perfect for a working mill: beside the River Bollin as well as the Bridgewater Canal and therefore Liverpool.

The Gregs – Samuel and his wife Hannah Lightbody – were innovative and paternalistic business owners. They provided medical care for workers and education for their children, as well as building housing for the workers known as Styal Estate. As the mill expanded in the 1820s, so did the housing.

When Samuel died in 1834, his son Robert took over and introduced weaving. The mill was driven by a 32-metre diameter water wheel – equivalent to the power of 120 horses. In 1810, the owners had bought a steam engine to help keep cloth-production going during the winter months when the river water level was low.

While the mill provided relatively good working conditions, Quarry Bank was attacked during the Plug Plot Riots in 1842, a general strike that started among miners in Staffordshire and spread to mills in Northern England.

Quarry Bank was gifted to the National Trust in 1939 but the industrial core of the site never left. The Trust leased space for local businesses and power was free, continually generated by the water wheel.

Quarry Bank Mill today

Today, the Quarry Bank Mill houses the most powerful working waterwheel in Europe. Made from iron, the wheel moved from Glasshouses Mill and was designed by Sir William Fairbairn who has been the apprentice to the known textile manufacturer and engineer, Thomas Hewes. Nevertheless, visitors to the mill will see the full circle journey from water power to steam back to water power.

Step inside the mill to see working machinery from the Victorian period, guided by the technical team. Then visit the Apprentice House, open from 11am to 4pm which shows where the child workers lived, ate and slept. Be aware there are a limited number of daily tours.

Getting to Quarry Bank Mill

For those driving, Quarry Bank Mill is found off the B5166, 2 miles from the M56 at exit 5. Follow the brown heritage signs from the A34 or M56. You can also get the train to Styal, just half a mile away and a 20 minute walk from the mill.

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