Quarry Bank Mill is over 200 years old; it was built by Samuel Gregg in 1783. In those days life was very hard for working people in England and poor children had to go to work instead of school (this is still the case in some parts of the world today). At Quarry Bank they used to take children from the work house at the age of 9 and they would become apprentices and had to work until they were 18 years old for their keep. Here is the house that they all lived in, ninety of them all together.There is an allotment garden outside the house that used to be tended by the children after they completed their long shifts in the mill. Nowadays it is tended by National Trust volunteers; the beetroot looked very tasty.We joined a group of humans having a tour of the house. First stop was the school room. The children used to have lessons here on Sunday afternoons after going to church. Monday to Saturdays were spent working in the mill from 6am in the morning until 7pm in the evening. They must have been very tired. I tried my paw at writing on a slate with slate. It was a tad difficult. They started off learning to write letters by drawing them in a tray of sand. I didn’t try this as didn’t want to get sand stuck in my fur.The lady doing the tour didn’t want to be held up by people taking photographs so we quickly followed the rest of the group upstairs to the dormitory where the children slept two to a bed. The beds were very small; poor people didn’t used to grow very tall then as they didn’t get enough nutritious food and had to work very hard. The children used to get to their dormitory by means of a ladder through a trap door and were shut in for the night. If they needed to do a wee or a poo they had to use a chamber pot and wipe their bottoms with some straw.Next we went into a room that would’ve been the boy’s dormitory but a table had been put there to show some of the remedies that the doctor would have used when the mill workers were ill. The leeches were used to draw out infected blood; they are still used today for some medical uses. This pot contains Brimstone and treacle. It was used for all sorts of ailments and made people go the toilet. I am glad I wasn’t around back then!Finally we went into the kitchen where a real fire was roaring. The guide told us all about the food that the apprentices ate, and that although they had a hard life it they had better conditions than some other mills.The porridge looked a bit thick. Apparently it was made deliberately like this as the children would have been taken some for breakfast while they were working. A dollop would have been given to them in their hand and straight after eating it they would have to get back to work.The water pump where the children would have been able to wash. It must have been very cold to use this in the winter.I didn’t feel inclined to try out the toilet.I did however try on a hat from the dressing up clothes that you often find in National Trust properties for children. I think I look good in caps.The washing of clothes was carried out using ‘washing dollies’ which must have been very hard work. People didn’t change their clothes so often 200 hundred years ago. The mill children had 2 sets of clothes each and put fresh ones on each Sunday for church and wore them for the following week.A walk down from the Apprentices’ house took us to Quarry Bank Mill.Some of the trees were a splendid orange colour due to it being autumn.This is the stream that feeds the giant water wheel which is still working at over 200 years old.No visit to a National Trust property is complete without a stop for some cake. The Mill Café was so busy I had to sit upstairs in the overflow area, which is also a function room.With a full tummy it was time to look around the mill.The mill still has lots of the original machinery and is also a museum. This lady was demonstrating how cotton was turned into fabric before mass industrialisation. Here she is showing me how to ‘card’ the raw cotton and make it into fluffy cotton wool. This has to be done before raw cotton can be made into thread for weaving.Cotton has to be spun round and round to make a strong continuous thread. It can be done totally by hand but takes a very very long time, so the spinning wheel was invented. The spun cotton was then made into cloth using a pedal powered loom. The fabric could only be a wide as the operator’s arm pulling the shuttle across the fabric.
In order to make wider cloth in 1733 an inventor, John Kay invented the flying shuttle.
Spinning was also made more efficient with the invention of the Spinning Jenny which was invented by James Hargreaves in 1764.In another big room weaving was being done by lots of big powered machines which were being driven by the power harnessed from a water wheel and also steam engines.When the machines were running is was very very noisy. I was very grateful to this kind National Trust guide who me borrow some protective ear muffs. On another floor we found this giant carding machine that turns the cotton into cotton wool.The spinning was happening so quickly it looked as though all the reels were still. This bit of weaving equipment looked like something for bears to stay away from. The person setting up the weaving machine must certainly not be clumsy. Another toilet…There was an exhibition with boards with information about the lives of the workers and the working conditions. Apparently it was hot and humid as that was best for the cotton, and dusty, which wasn’t good for the workers’ lungs. I tried on a pair of Lancashire clogs that felt heavy and uncomfortable.The huge waterwheel was at first the main source of power in the mill. Later steam engines were also introduced to increase production.Here I am sat on a water wheel shaft which shows how big it is. We got ‘photo bombed’ by a little dog!We didn’t have time to visit the house where the mill owners lived but finished our visit with a refreshing walk through the woods where the Gregg’s children used to play, but I don’t think the children that worked in the mill would have had much time or energy left for playing.
Quarry Bank Mill is a very interesting place with lots to see and think about.
More information: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/quarry-bank
Horace the Alresford Bear 9/11/18