One of the joys of being a writer is the process of researching our chosen time, place or occupation - whatever is needed to give our characters the depth to make their lives believable.
Research can be all encompassing and the cause of procrastination as we absorb ourselves in finding out details for our work-in-progress, but in the process of discovery I have visited some fascinating historic sites. One such place being the beautifully restored example of a working cotton mill, the National Trust’s Quarry Bank Mill, Wilmslow, near Manchester.
Its founder Samuel Greg was adopted by his childless uncle, Robert Hyde, as a boy. From him Samuel learned about the successful linen trade of The House of Hyde becoming first Robert’s partner and then in 1782 his heir.
The vast complex of buildings
Quarry Bank was built in 1783 by Samuel. It became his home when he left the grime of Manchester’s growing and busy city to live in Quarry Bank House. Together Samuel and his wife, Hannah Lightbody, had thirteen children. Their family and the mill thrived, but the industry that sustained their living was one with a very dark side.
Children at this time were expected to work if their parents could not pay for their upbringing
If they were orphans or unwanted, then as paupers they were taken into the new mills to labour long hours in noisy, fibre-filled air doing menial tasks that often involved them manoeuvring around moving machinery. It was a hungry industry that wanted cloth to be produced quickly, cheaply and in quantity. The cottage industries these machines replaced could not compete.
The deafening machine room
Taking in children meant that those who made it to adulthood were experienced workers; some even became overseers. However, the truth was child labour was harsh. With its dependence on the slave trade, the industry that helped to transform the landscape from cottage industries to the advent of heavy machinery and automation made the mill owners very rich.
Although Phoebe'sChallenge is set in North Yorkshire, the mill and horrendous lifestyle that Phoebe and Thomas would have faced was such as this fine example of a working cotton mill clearly shows. Quarry Bank was by no means the harshest example.
From the gentle talk on hand spinning and weaving that begins your journey through the vast building, on to the cotton processing and weaving sheds, the impact the machine room has is stark. Even with only one of the many machines working, the noise was dramatic.
Yet children were expected to crawl around these monsters
A working mill from the Industrial Revolution
Quarry Bank was forward thinking enough to provide an Apprentice House; guided tours are available and I would recommend taking one to understand what life was like there. It also gave a fascinating peek into the remedies a doctor may prescribe should you be unfortunate enough to fall ill.
The gardens throughout are a joy to explore and enjoy. There was also housing provided for workers in Styal Village, which can also be visited. The site is beautifully maintained and the access is quite good although it is best to check regarding specific needs before visiting.