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Ep3: The Natural World of Quarry Bank Mill

by Jamie Farrington, University of Manchester


· A brief history of Quarry Bank Mill

· Plants to Medicine: Treating the sick amongst the mill’s populace

· Nature and the Greg Family at Quarry Bank

· Healthful Nature, Heritage Institutions and the National Trust at Quarry Bank

· References and Links

A brief history of Quarry Bank Mill

Quarry Bank Mill is one England’s oldest textile mills, having opened in 1784. The mill is still in operation today but is now primarily a heritage site owned and run by the National Trust. Quarry Bank was a family run business, built by Samuel Greg which remained in the control of the Greg family throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century, until it was sold to the National Trust.

Mills and most other factories, during the Industrial Revolution, were constructed in close proximity to one another, which attracted large numbers of workers and helped develop industrial towns such as Manchester, Bolton, and Oldham. Unlike mill towns, rural mills like Quarry Bank did not have a large populace to acquire staff. In order to sustain a permanent workforce in Styal it was necessary for the Gregs to provide a number of facilities such as housing, shops and chapels. The housing provided included gardens, enabling workers to grow their own vegetables and medicinal herbs.

Above: (Left) Close up of Quarry Bank Mill; (middle) the Greg family home situated next to the mill, however none of the windows faced the mill to provide distance for the family; (right) the rural Mill in the being surrounded by nature. (C) Jemma Houghton. No re-use of images without permission.

Plants to Medicine: Treating the sick amongst the mill’s populace

The Greg family, and for the apprentice children in their charge, engaged a number of surgeons to attend to their medical needs. These surgeons visited Quarry Bank and if any type of medicinal plant was required and purchased it from an apothecary and would have collected it or had it delivered to the mill.

For Quarry Bank’s workers however this was not the case. Quarry Bank’s workers residing in Styal Village were relatively isolated and the nearest village, Wilmslow, was over a mile away. People worked long hours - up to 15 hours a day - meaning they had relatively little free time. Although there was an apothecary in Wilmslow, the lack of free time, may have discouraged people from accessing this especially if things were needed at short notice. To tackle this issue workers could share a basic medical knowledge regarding the use of certain plants and herbs which they could both forage for or grow in their gardens. Plants such as rhubarb and ginger, were easy to grow and our research of the mill’s medical records has revealed they were commonly used as an emetic (substances which induced purging through vomiting or pooing). There are also cases of these plants being used within external treatments such as in poultices. Poultices were a mixture of different materials – often bread, water, vinegar with various herbs and plants – wrapped together in a linen bag. These would be held onto wounds or sore areas with the intention relieving the pain and drawing out any bad substances which was believed to be causing the complaints.

Nature and the Greg Family at Quarry Bank

Setting Quarry Bank apart from later 19th century textile mills of the industrial towns was the rural picturesque landscape of Styal itself, which has become a defining feature within the mill’s story. For the Greg family the natural landscape of Styal was more than just the setting for the mill but later became their place of residence when the family moved permanently from Manchester to Quarry Bank House which was, adjacent to the mill built by Samuel Greg.

Above: Samuel and Hannah Greg

To the Gregs and particularly Hannah Greg – Samuel’s wife – the natural environment of Styal had a restorative role. Even before the permanent move to Quarry Bank, Hannah would use the house as an escape. She would take herself and her family into the countryside as a break from the industrial environment of Manchester. The Greg family made ample use of their gardens around their house, partaking in activities such as gardening and strolling. Samuel and Hannah encouraged their children to be active in the grounds, through play. The children also had their own garden space. This lead to a lifelong passion for nature for their son Robert Hyde Greg. A friend of Robert’s wrote:

"So fond was he of landscape gardening that he would not rarely visit the writer, who was interested in laying out a small garden with some regard to the natural capabilities of the place. Occasionally he would bring some friend and discuss the various arrangements, examining the rarer shrubs with evident zest." (Fryer, A. Wilmslow Graves and Grave Thoughts from Wilmslow, c.1860).

Above: (left) lower Greg family garden; (middle) upper Greg family garden with the mill visible in the background; (right) the view from the Greg family home. (C) Jemma Houghton. No-reuse of images without permission.

Healthful Nature, Heritage Institutions and the National Trust at Quarry Bank

It is now more widely appreciated what a positive impact has on our health and wellbeing. Mind the mental health charity, alongside Natural England have produced reports that highlight the benefits of nature to our health. The founder of National Trust was also a big believer in the power of nature – having advocated for fresh air, and being outdoors – and their properties are excellent places to enjoy nature or get involved through their volunteering schemes.

We are all recommended to get more involved with nature and there are lots of ways to do this. You might want to grow and pick your own food, go for walks in the park and bring nature inside your home by having house plants.

This growing awareness of the link between health and nature has resulted in the start of joint initiatives between heritage and cultural institutions – such as the Manchester Museum and The Whitworth – and the NHS to create activities that both encourage visitor involvement and help teach and develop a greater understanding into the benefits of being outdoors in Nature. The Manchester Museum and The Whitworth with the NHS having devised a programme of activities, titled the ‘Natural Cultural Health Service which involves everything from wellbeing walks, meditation in the park, tai-chi and yoga.

References and Links

· Fryer, A. Wilmslow Graves and Grave Thoughts from Wilmslow, c.1860.

· Mind:

· National Trust:

· Natural England Report:

· Quarry Bank Mill:

· Murray, Robert, ‘Quarry Bank Mill 2. The Medical Service,’ British Journal of Industrial Medicine, 16 (1959), pp. 61-67.

· The Whitworth, Natural Cultural Health Service:

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