The Mill

We left our castle and traveled on to meet up with Adrian’s Aunt and Uncle. (Adrian was born in England and arrived in Australia when he was 4.) As we only had two days left of our holidays we decided to go rogue and not stick to the main highways.   We started to go though some lovely small villages, stopping at one for coffee. We were a little concerned that going rogue was not a good idea when one of the roads seemed to be getting narrower and narrower. At one stage I thought ‘what will we do if a semi trailer comes round the bend at us.’ No sooner had the thought crossed my mind when, I remembered where I was. Yes I did have a laugh at myself. We were in England, no semi would be seen on small country roads like this. Well I hope not.

As we were going to stay the night in Sandbach, Adrian’s Aunt had suggested The Bears Head Inn. It was a lovely Tudor building with low ceilings and thick wood furniture, along with a suite of modern accommodation rooms off to one side. I had met Adrian’s English family at gathering before the wedding and then at the wedding. One of the nicest things about Adrian’s side, is they always make you feel like you are an added bonus to the family. So nice (and I even include Adrian’s ex wife in that statement.)

It was easy for us to find the restaurant for dinner as it was at the Inn. The evening was one of those evenings where you have to keep up with the conversation as it travels so fast and jumps from one topic to the next and everyone laughs. We ended the evening by making arrangements to meet Adrian’s Aunt and Uncle the next day so they could show us around Holmes Chapel where Adrian’s mother and Aunt grew up. As we were saying our last goodbyes Adrian’s Aunt spotted a photo on the wall of the pub. It was an old photo of the school Adrian’s mother went to. It looked very impressive.

school

The drive around Homes Chapel, was interesting even for me. Adrian’s Aunt showed us the house where his parents use to live before he was born and the local church where his parents were married.  We took a walk along the main street and they pointed out one building after another and told us snippets of their time. For some reason Adrian didn’t remember anything of the town. His excuse is he was only 4 when he left.

After we said our final goodbyes we drove to Quarry Bank Mill, near Styal Village, Cheshire.

The Mill was once a thriving cotton mill.   It was set up when cotton was rather a new item to England. England had depended on wool for most people’s clothes. When cotton (Chintz) arrived it was crisp, fresh and most importantly it was easy to wash. Like most things new it was only for the rich. With the introduction of the mill, cotton became cheaper so even the poor could afford it.

Not only did the mill bring cotton to the masses it also revaluated the working plight of women in the area. Why? Up until then there was very little paid work for women. The mill offered work mainly to women and young girls. They would work 14 and 1/2 hour days as spinners, carders, winders, reelers, weavers, mule hands and waste pickers. Each job’s earnings varied considerably. The top job (Overlooker) would earn a male 27 shillings per week while a woman would only earn 13 shillings and 19 pence for the same position. That is if they could get the top job. In 1840 there were 15 Overlooker roles and only one was filled by a woman.

Not only did the women work the same hours, but earning far less than the men at the mill, at the end of the day they would then have to go home and do all the domestic labour as well. Even though it was a hard life for women it did offer a paid job and for most it offered independence.

One of the nice things about the Quarry Bank Mill was in 1817; it set up a ‘Sick Club’ for the women. This meant women could be paid up to 12 weeks half pay if they had to take time off to have a baby or for an illness. This was a big thing. With no holiday pay or sick leave any time off from work meant no income. (Generally a woman was given 4 weeks leave to have a baby.) So the introduction of an income gave women a greater freedom to choose to have children or not.

The mill was set up with so many information boards it was almost overwhelming with all the knowledge.   I started to read some and then decided to take photos of the information. I was quickly told off from a staff member. As per usual it is when you have been told off for doing something you look up to see signs everywhere telling you not to do the thing you were just doing. It was like that for me, I looked up and everywhere were signs saying no photos. Ok. I was going to ask why not, but the woman had walked away. I don’t understand the restrictions myself. Surely the history of the mill isn’t a big secret.

Not happy about not being able to take photos the mill lost interest for me.

There were several staff members around the buildings showing people how the different pieces of machinery operated. One bit I heard made me laugh but was rather sad: women would pay children, generally their own to eat cotton. It seemed the company was very strict with not having any waste and the weavers would be fined for any waste. The weavers, when they finished an item and were cutting off the end of threads, would give the end to the children to eat. No end pieces. No waste. Problems solved.   I laughed because I though ‘that is one way to save having to cook. Fill the children up on cotton’

It was very noisy with some of the machinery going so we didn’t stay very long looking at how everything worked.

A little way from the mill was a building. It was run as a small orphanage.   The mill owner realised it was cheaper to hire children for many of the jobs. Orphans were best because then you could charge them for their room and board as well as giving them a lower wage. Hence the mill had an orphanage. There was a staff member who gave us a tour. It only lasted about half and hour but it did give a good insight to the way the children were treated. If I had thought the women had a hard life then the plight of the children was even worse. Not only did they work the hours the adults did they also had to go to school as well. This was generally an hour in the evening. On Sunday a day of rest the children would have to walk to the nearby village to go to church then come home and do their own washing. They had to help in the garden and in the kitchen as well.

The orphanage was a great way for the mill to keep a steady stream of workers. Without a real education and not knowing any other life the children really didn’t have any other option but to work for the mill when they turned 18.

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