Hannah Barker, University of Manchester (2017)

Housing the workers

Though Styal is only 11 miles from Manchester, transport was so slow in the late 1700s that it would have been considered an isolated place. This might have meant that Samuel Greg would have struggled to recruit workers for his mill, but this does not seem to have been an issue during the opening decades of the Mill’s operation. In part, this was because he could rely on the child workers supplied by parish poor law authorities. Housing these children in the purpose-built Apprentice House was much cheaper than paying to build cottages to accommodate adults. Though Styal village was later expanded significantly in order to house the workers in the Mill, the early dependence on child workers meant that the development of Styal began very slowly after the Mill opened in 1784.

There are some buildings in the village that pre-dated the Mill opening (mostly dating from the 1600s): these were for agricultural use. Such early buildings include the timber-framed Oak Farm Farmhouse, the timber-framed Tudor Cottage and a group of timber-framed and brick buildings at Farm Fold Cottages. A further group is formed by Cross Farm Farmhouse and Shaws Fold Cottages on the west side of Styal Road.


Shaws Fold, Styal

When Samuel Greg arrived at Styal to build his new cotton mill, his estate was initially leased from the Earl of Stamford, a local landowner. In about 1802-3, however, he bought the Oak Farm estate, containing about 60 acres, from the Earl, and in 1805 he added a new barn and shippon (cowshed). The farm provided a source of fresh meat and dairy produce for Greg’s employees, although it has been suggested that its purchase may also have been intended to offset the uncertainties in the cotton industry during the Napoleonic wars. Samuel Greg bought or leased further areas of surrounding land over the following years, including Cross Farm around 1812.


Styal before the Mill opened: detail of Burdett’s map of Cheshire, surveyed c 1772-4, with the few existing farm buildings marked by one square (marked by arrow)

The early 1800s witnessed the decline of the apprentice system on which the Mill had previously relied. Following Peel’s Health and Morals of Apprentices Act (1802), as well as subsequent Acts regulating the employment of poorhouse children in cotton mills, the use of apprentices became less profitable. Mill owners such as Samuel Greg increasingly turning to an alternative workforce of adults and ‘free children’. By 1833 apprentices made up only 20% of workforce at Styal, and in 1847 the apprentice system was completely abandoned.

The demand for more adult labour for the Mill led to a need for more housing. In the 1820s the pace of development at Styal village also quickened coinciding with a dramatic expansion in the Mill that included the addition of a huge 100 horse-power water wheel. 42 new cottages were built during the 1820s at Styal, along with a chapel, a school and a shop. Building the cottages set Samuel Greg and Company back over £6,000, and was a significant investment. Other buildings which had formerly been for agricultural use, such as Shaws Fold (which had probably been stables and a barn), were converted in the middle of the nineteenth century to create yet more worker accommodation by Samuel’s son and successor to the business, Robert Hyde Greg.


Styal in 1872, showing the growth in the worker accommodation during the first half of the nineteenth century: Ordnance Survey of Styal, surveyed 1872

As a result of these changes the population of Styal rose from 420 in 1787 to 864 by 1841 (and thereafter remained stable until the late 1800s). During the mid nineteenth century the Mill was the major employer in the village and 40% of residents were mill hands. Others worked in agriculture and domestic service. The importance of mill employment declined during the nineteenth century however, so that by 1871 only 20% of villagers worked at the Mill.

Oak Cottages

The long double row of Oak Cottages was probably built between 1822-3 as part of the expansion of Styal village in the 1820s. In 1846, Robert Hyde Greg reported to a Parliamentary Commission that the workers’ cottages at Styal could be rented for 2s. 6d. [2 shillings and 6 pence] for ‘the best cottages, that we built ourselves’. These consisted of ‘what we call a Parlour and back Kitchen and Two Bed-rooms, and a Cistern [water butt] and Yard; some few have a Cellar in addition to that’. According to Greg the cottages also had ‘an oven’ in the parlour with the water supply coming from rainwater being collected in the cistern’. Each cottage also had its own privy, coal storage and ash pit in the back yard. The nearest water pump was probably at Oak Farm.

A 1834 Parliamentary Report on Lancashire by a Mr Tufnell noted that although in some parts of Manchester, such as Little Ireland, ‘the habitations of the Manchester poor are low, damp, ill-ventilated, and surrounded by filth’, this was ‘the most destitute part of the population’, which did not ‘in general work in factories’. Instead he asserted that ‘The factory workmen are usually in a very comfortable condition … but it is in the country that the superior condition of the factory population is principally displayed; and I do not believe that any part of England can show instances of comfort and prosperity surpassed by that which is enjoyed by cotton-workers in country districts’. Reporting on other worker accommodation in Hyde, Tufnell stated that ‘The cottages of workmen in Hyde comprise each two sitting-rooms, a pantry, a privy in a small yard walled, and two large rooms up stairs. … These observations apply equally to Gorton, Wilmslow, Stayley Bridge’. The Wilmslow reference probably meant that Tufnell was including Quarry Bank in his survey.

Tufnell painted a positive view of workers’ accommodation, and according to him mill workers in the country were little concerned with reducing their working day to ten hours, ‘on the contrary, they seem to feel that contentment which their situation so fully warrants’. We might want to be a little bit sceptical of Tufnell’s rosy view, not least because we know that the cellars in the Oak Cottages were also rented out to workers and offered a much less comfortable style of living than the accommodation above: with only two rooms in total and situated underground. This practice of renting out both upper floors and cellars also meant that the occupants of the cottages would be sharing the water supply and privy in the yard. Yet Tufnell’s comments do remind us that the Gregs were not alone amongst rural mill owners in providing accommodation for their workers.

Tufnell’s comments contrast forcibly with those of Friedrich Engels, the son of a rich German textile manufacturer who was sent to Manchester in 1842 to work. Though his father hoped to turn him into a respectable businessman, Friedrich saw his time in Manchester as a great opportunity to study the effects of the British Industrial Revolution on workers. His research resulted in a book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, published in 1845. This book aimed to highlight the poor working and living conditions of workers in Manchester.

Engels wrote about one industrial suburb in Manchester that ‘In … Ancoats, stand the largest mills of Manchester lining the canals, colossal six and seven-storied buildings towering with their slender chimneys far above the low cottages of the workers. The population of the district consists chiefly of mill-hands ..…The walls of the cottages (in which they live) are as thin as it is possible to make them (and)….cellar dwellings are to be found under almost every cottage…. Many streets are unpaved and without sewers …. Ancoats, built chiefly since the sudden growth of manufacture within the present century, contains a vast number of ruinous houses, most of them being, in fact, in the last stages of inhabitableness. …..(I have never seen a) more injurious and demoralising method of housing the workers. ….The working-man is constrained to occupy such ruinous dwellings because he cannot pay for others, and because there are no others in the vicinity of his mill; perhaps, too, because they belong to the employer, who engages him only on the condition of his taking such a cottage’.

Engels also seems to have visited Quarry Bank. He refers in Condition of the Working Class in England to meeting the ‘Liberal manufacturer’, Robert Hyde Greg, and visiting his factory in the country. But though he was not as critical of the standard of housing, he argued that ‘The presence of the employer keeps you from asking indiscreet questions; you find every one well-paid, comfortable, comparatively healthy by reason of the country air; you begin to be converted from your exaggerated ideas of misery and starvation. But, that the cottage system makes slaves of the operatives, that there may be a truck shop in the neighbourhood, that the people hate the manufacturer, this they do not point out to you, because he is present. He has built a school, church, reading-room, etc. That he uses the school to train children to subordination, that he tolerates in the reading-room such prints only as represent the interests of the bourgeoisie, that he dismisses his employees if they read Chartist or Socialist papers or books, this is all concealed from you. You see an easy, patriarchal relation, you see the life of the overlookers, you see what the bourgeoisie promises the workers if they become its slaves, mentally and morally’.

13 Oak Cottages: the ‘Pickled cottage’


13 Oak Cottages, Styal

13 Oak Cottages was built around 1820 when the Gregs started the rapid expansion of the village to house its growing workforce. It is known locally as the Pickled cottage because it has been literally pickled and left untouched and unaltered (and empty) since the late 1970s.


Oak Cottages (number 13 second house facing south after large school building): Ordnance Survey of Styal, surveyed 1872

Who lived at number 13?


Syal cottages rent book, 1844-50, Quarry Bank Archive, showing the Nicklins and their lodgers


The 1841 census is the earliest document that records the names of the 13 Oak Cottage tenants. Combined with the data from rent and wages books in the Quarry Bank Archives and the 1851 census we have reconstructed the names of some of the earlier tenants in this table:


Years Tenant’ names Age Employment


Peter Nicklin 58 (in 1841) Cotton Spinner (according to the 1841 census) ‘Making up’, ‘Odd hand’ (according to the rent book and wages books)
1841 Ann Nicklin 52 (in 1841)
1841 Catherine Burn 26 (in 1841) Working on Dyer’s frames at the Mill (according to the rent book); cotton spinner (1841 census)
1845 Mary Brown Spinner (rent book)


Mary Holden (head) 45 (in 1850) Dispensary nurse (rent book)
1847-? George Holden (son) 19 (in 1850) Power loom weaver
1847-? Hannah Holden/Hope (1853) (daughter) 17 (in 1850) Power loom weaver
1847-? Mary Holding (daughter) 15 (in 1850) Power loom weaver (in 1851)
1850 -? William Hope (son in law?)



Year Lodger’s name Age Employment
1834-43 John Taylor 25 (in 1841) Cotton worker
1834-43 Mary Taylor 30 (in 1841)
1844-1847 William Bradbury Worked in 3rd card room; wage from 9/6 to 11/10.
1844-1847 Mary Bradbury Worked in 1st card room (drawing frames); wage from 6/9 to 7/-.
1846-47 Sarah Bradbury
1848-1853 Thomas Shaw


Worked at mules in 5th room; wage: 9/- to 10/- per week
1848-1853 Sarah Shaw, with one child Worked in the third spinning room at 7/- a week.
1853 John Bradshaw

Sarah Bradshaw


It is likely that a married couple, Ann and Peter Nicklin, lived in the house from the day it was completed in the early 1820s. Peter Nicklin was born about 1787 in Mobberley in Chesire and Ann Bourne (later Nicklin) was born about 1792 in Ireland. They were married at St Bartholomew’s Church in Wilmslow on 3 November 1807. They do not appear to have had any children.

Peter Nicklin appears in the Mill cash books as an employee from as early as 1812 when he was paying 1s per week in rent to the Gregs. He paid the same rent until 1819. The records are less complete after this point, but by 1834, when he is next found in rent records, he was paying 2s 6d. This suggests that he had moved to larger accommodation at some point between 1819 and 1834: most likely to 13 Oak Cottages.

Though Peter Nicklin was employed at the Mill from at least 1812, if not earlier, his exact occupation in these early days is unclear. By the time of the first occupational census in 1841 he was listed as a ‘cotton spinner’, though more precise occupational descriptors for him can be found in the Mill wages books. Between 1834 and 1843 he was overseer of the Making Up room, earning 20 shillings a week. It is not clear what ‘making up’ involved, though it might have been packaging finished products for sending off and ‘making up’ orders. There were about a dozen men employed in this room in the early nineteenth century, with the occasional female worker. From 1842, the number of employees in the Making Up room began to fall, and by the following year, 1843, Peter’s wage was reduced from 20s to 14s and ‘Making Up’ disappeared from the wages books altogether for a time. Peter appears to have been employed for this lower wage of 14s as a warper. He quickly moved again, this time appearing under the heading of ‘warehouse, twisters-in’ at the same wage of 14s. Eventually, Peter Nicklin appeared in the wages books as the sole employee in the Making Up room in 1844, though still only paid 14s per week.

In 1847 the Nicklins moved from 13 Oak Cottages to Farm Fold where they paid a lower rent of 1s 9d per week. In 1851, Peter and Ann Nicklin sailed from Liverpool to New York on a ship named the Franklin, arriving on 24 May. They seem to have settled in the textile-making town of Southbridge, Massachusetts. However, their new start was quickly marred by Ann Nicklin’s death in Southbridge on 9 August 1851, aged 59. Her cause of death was listed simply as ‘fit’. It is not known what happened to Peter after the death of his wife, as he does not appear in any surviving American records. He may have returned to England, and may have been the Peter Nicklin who died in 1864 at the Ashton-under-Lyne Union Workhouse.

During what appear to have been happier times at Styal, and between November 1834 and January 1835, Peter Nicklin was recorded as paying two rents, both his own rent of 2s 6d and another rent of 1s. The same record book shows that Styal residents John and Mary Taylor stopped paying their rent of 2s 6d at the time that Peter Nicklin started paying two rents, whilst they began paying a new rent of 1s when Nicklin stopped the higher payments. This makes it likely that the Nicklins (either out of kindness or for profit by way of a loan) paid John and Mary Taylor’s rent for the cellar at number 13 after the Taylors had moved out of more expensive accommodation.

John and Mary Taylor had both been born in Styal village: John in 1814 whilst his father was employed there as a ‘day labourer’, Mary in 1811 when she was born Mary Moore. Her father was listed in the 1841 census as an agricultural labourer. John and Mary were married in 1834, a few months before they moved into the cellar of number 13. Both John and Mary were employed at the Mill: John in the carding room and Mary as a reeler, working alongside John’s sister, Dinah. Mary continued to work in the Mill for about four months after they married, but then seems to have stopped. Around four years after they married they had a son, William. By the time of the 1841 census, the Taylors were still resident in the cellar of number 13, with Mary’s parents and four of her siblings – who all worked as reelers and spinners in the Mill – next door but one at number 11. In 1843 John Taylor appears in mill wages books as an ‘odd hand’ paid 11s a week before becoming a warper paid around 16s a week. At this point he was employed in the same section of the Mill as his neighbour, Peter Nicklin, who was also a warper.

John Taylor worked as warper at Quarry Bank Mill for at least 31 years. John and Mary lived in the cellar at number 13 for around 9 years, before moving to Farm Fold in 1843 where they remained until their deaths around 30 years later. Mary operated a ‘toffy [toffee] shop’ from their home during the 1850s, when the couple also had Mary’s elderly father living with them. They had at least three children: William, Thomas and John. Both William and Thomas went on to be employed as power loom weavers at Quarry Bank and John worked locally as a ‘day waiter/servant’.


Mary and John Taylor’s son, William, who worked as a power loom weaver in the Mill and lived at Farm Fold, c. 1890. He was likely to have been born in the cellar of 13 Oak Cottages, and was probably the first person born at the property.


Photo showing Mary, wife of William Taylor, with one of their daughters and grandchildren sitting outside their Farm Fold home c. 1890. At the time of the 1861 census, nine members of three generations of the Taylor family lived here. Members of the Taylor family were said to have resided at Styal village for six generations and for over a century.

From 1844 the Taylors were succeeded in the cellar at 13 Oak Cottages by Mary and William Bradbury. Mary worked in the 1st card room in the Mill on the drawing frames, her husband, William, worked in the 3rd card room. They lived in the cellar with two young daughters. Both Mary and William continued working in the Mill even when their daughters were very young. William, or Billy, was remembered by a later resident of Styal village as having a stammer, being a snuff taker, and as a very good singer: Thomas Tongue recalled that ‘It was a treat in the Foresters club when John Thompson (Morley) could induce Billy Bredbury and Joseph Ormes to sing with him, as a trio ‘The White Cuckade’ the fun coming with the competition between Bradbury and Ormes to show which had the best voice’. The White Cockade was originally a Jacobite song which has been described by a historian of folk song, Robert Bell, as ‘a rebellious song … a favourite with the peasantry in every part of England, especially the mining districts of the north’.

Mary Holden, widow, was a long term resident of the upper cottage taking it over from the Nicklins when they left in 1847 and residing there for around 25 years until her death. She worked as a dispensary nurse – presumably at the Mill. She was sister to three brothers: George Henshall, who ran the village shop, John Henshall, who was the school master, and Thomas Henshall, who was a warper at the Mill and was described as ‘Leader of Singers at Norcliffe and Dean Row Chapels’.  Mary had three children: George, Hannah and Mary, all of whom worked in the Mill as power loom weavers.

Final resident: In the latter part of the twentieth century number 13 was occupied by Edith Green until her death in 1978.

Life at number 13

At the time of the first occupational census in 1841, Peter Nicklin was aged 58 and his wife Ann was 52. Along with the Nicklins, Catherine Burn (a 26 year old working on the Dyers frames at the Mill) lived with them as a lodger, and was joined by Mary Brown, a spinner (whose age is not listed in the rent book), from 1845. It is likely that the Nicklins took the front bedroom, which had a fireplace, whilst their lodgers were in the rear bedroom, which was unheated.

Ann Nicklin was not listed in either the census or the Mill wages books as having paid employment. However, even if she did not work at the Mill, she would have worked: not just cleaning her house, cooking for all its inhabitants (including the lodgers) and also doing all the household laundry, but it is also possible that she did similar forms of domestic work for others outside of her own home, such as taking in laundry and also childcare for younger village residents whose parents worked during the day.

All the forms of housework that occupied Ann Nicklin would have been more laborious than today. Washing clothes and bed linen, for example, would have taken a whole day once a week. Water for washing would have been collected from the cistern in the yard or the local pump and heated in the back room on the ground floor in the copper (a large boiler for cooking or laundry). Washing would then have been hung in the back yard to dry, or in the house in wet weather. It would have been ironed using a flat iron, heated at the fireplace.

Food preparation would have taken place in the back room, but without running water. Water from the cistern, or water butt, would have been used for washing and cooking food and for drinking. Though it’s often claimed that people in the past did not consume much water for fear of contamination, this was not the case and water was regularly drunk. Cooking would have been done on the stove/fireplace in the front room on the ground floor (the ‘Yorkist range’ there now is early C20th, replacing the original stove or fireplace) or using the copper in the back ground floor room. With both the Nicklins and their lodgers to feed, up to 5 times a day, Ann would have been busy. She and her husband would also have tended their garden and allotment to produce their own food.

The cellar (which was originally two rooms), with its own stove and copper, was occupied at the time of the 1841 census by John and Mary Taylor, aged 27 and 30 respectively, and their 3 year old son, William. Like Ann Nicklin, by this point Mary Taylor did not work at the Mill, though she may have had paid work elsewhere and even if she did not she would still have had hard work to do in the home and the village.

When the Bradburys moved in from 1844, both Mary and her husband worked in the Mill. It is likely that Mary carried the ‘double burden’ of working in the Mill and doing the bulk of domestic work. It is probable that her young children were looked after by a neighbour or relative during the day: perhaps by Ann Nicklin. A similar scenario was likely after 1848 when Thomas and Sarah Shaw lived in the cellar with a young child whilst both adults were employed at the Mill.

Living in small spaces

What is most striking about the occupants of 13 Oak Cottages in the early 1840s is not who they were or where they worked, but how many of them lived in what is a very small house by today’s standards. And though the Nicklins had lodgers, they appear to have had no children living with them, whilst other cottages in the village housed sizeable numbers of offspring. In the 1841 census we find up to 14 people living in one cottage (number 3 with 5 adults and 9 children) and up to 6 living in the cellar rooms. The Oak Cottages, in common with many of the cottages at Styal, were constructed of two rooms per floor, so at number 13 the Nicklin household lived in 4 rooms, and the Bradburys in two cellar rooms. Though these houses seem very cramped by modern standards, they would not have appeared so to contemporaries.

Living in such small spaces – often with others to whom one was not related by either marriage or blood – was not simple, and the ways in which inhabitants would have shared their living space contradicts both traditional historical models of growing domestic privacy during the eighteenth century, and our own modern ideas about privacy and space. In households such as that of the Nicklins, restrictions on the size of living accommodation made many of the formal distinctions of space that we are used to unlikely. This means that we can’t assume that people applied single uses to different rooms as we do today: thus it seems quite possible that inhabitants would sit and socialize, and cook and eat in the room we might think of as the front room (the first one you enter from the front door, which had a fire place, whilst the back room was probably some form of kitchen (though without running water). Though Robert Greg referred to the front room as a ‘parlour’, it is quite possible that its residents called it by a more common northern name: the ‘houseplace’ or ‘house’.


Front room, ground floor

It is also likely that unrelated individuals would have shared bedrooms, and probably beds. Whilst we might baulk at bed sharing it is clear that company and physical proximity were often more highly prized in the early 1800s than was a more modern understanding of privacy (especially if it was cold). And we know, of course, that any workers who had come from the Apprentice House would have been used to sharing beds with others, whilst in a period when large families were the norm, sharing beds with siblings would have been standard.


Drawing of an attic occupied by a large family in London (1863)

The Nicklins’ lodgers, Catherine Burn and Mary Brown, almost certainly shared a bed. Their bedroom was unheated and in the winter would have been bitterly cold. In such weather they would almost certainly have slept in their clothes, with their cloaks and any shawls over their blankets. If it was really cold, they might even have bedded down in the front room on the ground floor to benefit from the heat built up from the fireplace earlier in the evening (though keeping a fire burning overnight would have been very unlikely because of the cost).

But behaviour such as bed-sharing doesn’t mean that privacy wasn’t important in terms of upholding certain standards of respectability. The separation of the sexes to preserve modesty and to prevent inappropriate sexual relations – especially between men and women who weren’t related or married – would have been important amongst even the most humble of households. Although men and women appear not to have been generally segregated in terms of daily activities during the 1700s and 1800s, there were clearly exceptions to this rule where sexual impropriety or modesty were concerned: such as mending undergarments like stockings, washing and not engaging in illicit sexual behaviour.

Ensuring this sort of privacy meant that individuals had to abide by sets of unwritten rules about behaviour and conduct. Failure to do so could mean that the familial dwelling switched from being a place of companionship, affection and the well-practiced art of ‘rubbing along’ together, to a site of tension and struggle. Of course we know from the story of one well-documented resident of the village, Esther Price, and others, that unsanctioned (that is, unmarried) sexual conduct did go on, but it was likely to be frowned upon by more ‘respectable’ villagers.

Understanding how people negotiated shared existences in cramped spaces helps us to understand the ways in which they went about their everyday lives. Washing oneself, for example, was far more complex without a bathroom. Instead, individuals either had to wash in cold water from the cistern in the back yard or heat water at the stove or copper to wash either in the house place or in the kitchen using a basin. Doing such activities insuring privacy was not easy and required organization. This meant that in the Nicklin household the female lodgers would have been allowed to be separate from Peter Nicklin in order to mend their stockings in the front ground floor room (where it would have been warm enough in the colder months for their fingers not to freeze whilst sewing) and to wash themselves probably in the kitchen.

The working day

One of the most significant features of work at Quarry Bank Mill was the standard working day. Before the industrial revolution many people either worked in agriculture, as labourers or in artisan trades. These jobs were often seasonal, ad-hoc or geared towards production of specific items for specific jobs. Quarry Bank Mill, however, operated on a regular weekly work pattern with less of the ebb and flow of other work schedules (though work might stop in the early years when the river did not flow and workers took time off for certain holidays and festivals, such as Wakes weeks).

The working day at the Mill was a very long one – for the first 50 years of the Mill’s operation, a standard day’s work lasted 12 hours for all workers at Quarry Bank – perhaps up to 14 hours or more with overtime. Work started around 6 in the morning and ended at 7 at night (with up to 1½ hours of breaks during the day), Monday to Saturday, or a possible half day on Saturday. This meant little leisure time, even on Sundays, when large parts of the day would be taken up with going to chapel or church.

Employees whose wages did not cover their rents, stoppages or lost time (due to illness or absence) would have to do overtime on top of their gruelling daily labours to make up the difference. We can imagine the village residents tramping along the path from the village to the Mill, and back again, often tired and in darkness and still with chores to do (housework and childcare for women, tending to their strips of land to grow food for both men and women). For those who were not fortunate enough to live in Styal, Wilmslow was a two mile walk home, no matter the weather.

In the 1830s and 40s Samuel and Robert Greg strongly opposed calls for legislation restricting working hours, arguing that it would destroy the ability of the British cotton industry to compete with rivals abroad. Eventually, however, restrictions were imposed – an 1833 Act banned children under 9 years old from working in mills, setting an 8 hour maximum working day for children under 13 and a 12 hour maximum for under 18s. In 1847, the 10 hours Act ensured that women and children could only work up to 10 hours a day in factories (8 on Saturdays and no work on Sundays: a total of 63 hours per week). Fewer working hours did not devastate British industry as the Gregs had predicted, but the caps did provide incentives to work employees harder and introduce more labour-saving machinery.

Workers’ food

The Oak Cottages all had their own gardens to the front for growing food. During the 1800s the residents of Oak Cottages – in common with other cottages in the village – also each had a long strip of land which extended over what is now the village green (see map below which clearly shows the strips laid out). This allowed the residents to grow their own vegetables and perhaps also fruit. One of their main crops would have been potatoes. It seems likely that they would also have grown some other root crops, such as such as turnips, carrots and beetroot as well as cabbages, onions, kale, peas and beans.


Marked-up Ordnance Survey map c. 1880s

A report on factory workers in Lancashire in 1834 stated that a worker’s diet consisted largely of flour, potatoes, mutton and beer and that most workers had 5 meals a day: ‘breakfast at eight, lunch at eleven, dinner betwixt twelve and one, their bagging at four, and supper about seven’. [Bagging is a northern term for food eaten between regular meals, still in limited use to refer to an afternoon meal]. It was said in this report that all these meals, except lunch, were eaten outside the Mill (presumably at home), that lunch was generally bread, cheese and beer, and that dinner usually took the form of some sort of meat and potatoes.

In 1846 Robert Hyde Greg told a Parliamentary Commission that potatoes grown by the mill workers constituted a staple of their diet. He stated his belief that ‘generally they dine off Potatoes and Bacon, and their Breakfast and Supper are Tea and Bread … Dinner is their great Meal, and they have an immense Mass of Potatoes with a Slice of Bacon upon the Top’. Though the practice had died out by the 1840s as wheat and bread replaced oatmeal in the workers’ diet, he remembered that in earlier years at Styal, ‘there used to be Oat Cakes hanging up in every cottage’. Greg stated that the food that his workers had to purchase consisted of ‘Tea, Coffee, Butter, Bacon and Bread &c, but Potatoes they grow’.


Picture of a woman making oatcakes: George Walker, The Costume of Yorkshire (London, 1814): the hanging oatcakes can clearly been seen in the background, to the right of the picture.

The shop

The village shop was built during the 1820s at a cost of £92. For around the first 50 years it was owned by the Gregs and run for them by managers. As was normal practice in the period, villagers could purchase goods from the shop on credit. Sometimes debts were paid directly from their wages, as can be seen in the Mill cash books. Though it has been suggested that the shop was a ‘truck shop’ where mill workers were obliged to spend their wages, the evidence for this seems weak. During the 1800s it became more common for shops to deal in cash rather than credit, and this also seems to be the case at Styal.

By the mid nineteenth century, the shop was run as a cooperative and the premises were enlarged, with the adjacent cottage (number 22) rented by the shop. The shop manager George Henshall mentioned a Committee in his letters to R.H. Greg. This committee was involved in running and supervising the shop. In the letter dated 16 October 1858, he stated that the shop committee ‘meet at least once a quarter and sometimes oftener. They discuss the buying and selling prices, and make any new regulation they think desirable’.

Shop customers were also listed as the beneficiaries of a division of the annual profits in 1858. George Henshall noted that ‘at the annual division of the profits, there is always a feeling of gratitude expressed, and a vote of thanks moved and carried unanimous, which they expect to be conveyed to you through the committee’. The yearly statements of shop accounts reveal that there were around 140 individuals listed as shareholders and customers, and that the profits divided spanned from c. £73 to £95 a year.

The shop’s quarterly statements from 1858 show that it was selling flour, bread, meal (from Bramall); cheese (from a supplier named Armitage); butter, bacon (from local farmers); sugar, fruit, rice, treacle, candles, soap (from a supplier named Crompton); tea, coffee (from a supplier named Kirkwood), tobacco (from a supplier name Baker), shoes (from a supplier named Wild), and drapery (from a supplier named Philips).

Religion and the two chapels

Religious belief and activity would have featured prominently in the lives of most of the inhabitants and workers at Styal and Quarry Bank. It impacted not just on their Sundays, but on their day-to-day life: providing individuals with a moral code and a belief system that helped them to understand their lives and govern their behaviour. Styal was dominated by non-comformist Christianity from its beginnings: that is, Protestant Christianity which was not part of the established state church, the Church of England or Anglican Church. Specifically, Styal was influenced by Baptistism, Unitarianism and Methodism.

The 1851 religious census shows that 300 individuals attended the afternoon service at the Unitarian chapel on 30 March 1851. This was the only Unitarian chapel recorded in the Macclesfield parish so is easy to identify in the census. There were 18 Wesleyan Methodist chapels, with 2406 attending the evening service that day, or an average of 134 for each chapel. Given the large attendance at the Unitarian chapel, it seems likely that the number attending the Methodist chapel at Styal was greater than 134.

Because of the terms of the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act of 1802, the church that the Apprentices attended would have been the Anglican parish church at Wilmslow: St Bartholomew’s. This is where they were also likely to have received at least some of their Sunday school lessons, since the Act also stipulated that Apprentices received teaching on Christianity from an Anglican minister. Samuel Greg paid rent for special pews for the children (renting church pews to ensure a seat was common in this period). The children would walk there and back along what became known as the ‘Apprentice Walk’.


Norcliffe Chapel

The foundations for the first village chapel were laid on 22 August 1822. There was reportedly great excitement in Styal at this event, and one witness noted that ‘We all trooped down to the Oak Chapel to lay our brick. Everyone in the village could also lay a brick and the workmen had a little treat at night drinking the ladies’ health’. The Chapel was funded entirely by Samuel Greg, at a cost of £307 18s, and was officially opened early in 1823.

The original Chapel was a simple building, somewhat on the lines of a typical non-conformist meeting house of the previous century. It was rectangular in shape with simple frame windows. There was no chancel and the building ended where the present step into the chancel is today. The original doorway, which can be clearly seen from the outside, was at the end facing the village green. There was a flat roof and a small belfry. There was no porch at this time. The Chapel was lit by oil lamps and there was no heating.

The Chapel was initially used by the Baptists and the first minister appointed was the Baptist Reverend Halford Jones. Although Samuel Greg became a Unitarian, like his wife Hannah, there was a strong Baptist community in the village. Under the floor, almost underneath the pulpit, is a significant feature from the Baptist era, a full size baptismal tank. When the Reverend Halford Jones retired in 1833, Robert Hyde Greg appointed a Unitarian minister. Reverend John Colston became the first Unitarian minister of the Chapel in 1833, remaining in Styal for 31 years. He started the Sunday School, and, after Dean Row Chapel was restored largely due to his perseverance, he became the minister to both congregations, marking the beginning of a long association between the chapels. Rev Colston was also president of the Styal Village Institution (est. 1825), a kind of mini mechanics institute for working men of Quarry Bank. The Institution was intended for the diffusion of useful knowledge and ‘rational amusement’ of members. It circulated books and held lectures, classes and concerts. It also had a reading room with newspapers, periodicals, chess and draughts, a museum and a library with over 400 volumes. It was funded by membership fees from workers at a penny per week.

In 1867, Robert Hyde Greg commissioned significant alterations to the Chapel. The chancel was added, the door was moved and the porch constructed. The flat roof was taken off and made into a beamed, pitched roof. The wooden windows were altered to the shape and stonework we see today and stained glass was installed. The windows and the font were made by Henry Hope and another mason in 1867 to a design by Henry Russell Greg (Robert Hyde’s Brother). The stone was sourced from the quarry behind the Mill. A new bell tower was built on the pitched roof, with the rope going down to the outside and just a small roof protecting the bell ringers from the elements. The total cost of these alterations was over £1000.

By 1977 the ownership of the Chapel was passed to the National Trust to ensure the long-term preservation of this interesting building. Norcliffe Chapel is a Grade 2 listed Building and remains an active place of worship.


Methodist Chapel

When Samuel Greg died in 1834, Robert Hyde Greg allowed Methodists to have their own chapel and he paid for the conversion of an old grain store and wagon shop into a chapel in Farm Fold. As was common practice in Methodism in this period, most of the preaching at Styal was undertaken by local lay preachers, and from the outset the laymen and women of the village were largely self-reliant for the management of their chapel. The preaching attracted natural leaders amongst the workforce. For instance, John Waterworth, an apprentice and later book-keeper at the Mill, became the Minister of the Chapel and its Sunday School, which held classes all week on reading, writing and arithmetic and was open to all. Other names which appear regularly in the minutes of the Sunday School as taking a prominent part in its life are Catherine Patterson, Elizabeth Barnshaw and Margaret Magin.

The congregation grew so large that by 1858 the chapel had been outgrown, and it had to be altered and new fitted pews installed and available for rent. The old and fitted forms, or benches, were free. The fixed pews were not suitable for Sunday School work and were replaced with forms with reversible backs, similar (if not the same) as those replaced in 2000. The main entrance was also altered from the side to the front. It still serves as the Methodist Chapel today and its congregation is drawn from Styal village and the surrounding area.


Secondary published sources

Hannah Barker, ‘Living above the shop: home, business, and family in the English “Industrial Revolution”’, Journal of Family History, 35 (2010): available via academia.edu

Hannah Barker, Family and Business During the English Industrial Revolution (2017) AVAILABLE OPEN ACCESS (FOR FREE) AT: http://www.oapen.org/search?identifier=1001049;keyword=family%20and%20business. Also on OUP website, Google books and OSO. PDF: http://fdslive.oup.com/www.oup.com/academic/pdf/openaccess/9780198786023.pdf

Robert Bell, Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of England (1856)

Alfred Fryer, Wilmslow Grave and Grave Thoughts from Wilmslow (1886)

Keith Robbinson, What Became of the Quarry Bank Mill Apprentices? The Origins, Childhood and Adult Lives of 200 Cotton Workers (Styal, 1996)

Mary B. Rose, The Gregs of Quarry Bank Mill: The Rise and Decline of a Family Firm, 1750-1914 (1986)

Lancelot Smith, ‘Textile settlements in the early Industrial Revolution, with particular reference to housing owned by cotton spinners in the water power phase of industrial production’, PhD thesis, University of Aston in Birmingham (1976): https://1drv.ms/b/s!Aofcz0kOaGbilCGR008wCDm9y-qD

Ruth Watts, Gender, Power and the Unitarians in England, 1760-1860 (1998) 

Primary sources

1851 religious census returns: Division VIII, North-Western Counties

England and Wales population census, 1841 and 1851

Friedrich Engels, Condition of the Working Class in England (1845)


Burdett, Map of Cheshire, surveyed c 1772-4 (1777)

 Ordnance Survey of Styal, surveyed 1872

Marked-up Ordnance Survey map c. 1880s [probably amongst Estate papers in Manchester Central Library]

Parliamentary Papers:

Report from His Majesty’s Commissioners for Inquiring Into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws (1834) 44

Report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords on the Burdens Affecting Real Property (1846) 411, vi, part 1

Manchester Central Library (Archives+)

GB127.C5, R. Greg and Co. Ltd., of Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire and Reddish, Lancashire, cotton spinners

C5/1, Business Accounts (including cash books, ledgers, stock books and stoppage accounts)

C5/3, Machinery and Equipment (including mill memoranda)

C5/5, Agreements and Indenture

C5/6, Estate papers

C5/8, Correspondence

Quarry Bank Archive

Anon., The History of Norcliffe Chapel, Styal 1822-1977 (1977?)

‘List of men at Styal about the year 1860 compiled from Memory by Thomas Tongue’ English Geneologist, 17 (1922)

Styal cottages rent book, 1844-50

Unpublished reports

 Sara Burdett, Emma Ward, Lucy Armstrong, Sophie Fish and Mathew Tickner, ‘Quarry Bank Conservation Management Plan’, Volumes 1-4, National Trust (2014)

Stephen Haigh, ‘Number 13 Oak Cottages, Styal, Cheshire: Vernacular Buildings Survey for the National Trust’ (2003)

Stephen Haigh, ‘13, Oak Cottages Styal, Cheshire: Historic Building Survey for the National Trust’ (2016)

James Finlay ‘Report on 13 Oak Cottages, Styal’ (2016)

Ksenija Kolerovic, ‘Archive research on 13 Oak Cottages and Styal Shop’ (2016) [see also updates in Danika Lloyd reports which contains some factual amendments]

Danika Lloyd, ‘Nicklin research report’ (2017)

Danika Lloyd, ‘1841 census for Styal’ (2017)

Danika Lloyd, ‘Taylor research report’ (2017)

Matrix Archaeology, ‘Shaws Fold, Styal Estate, Cheshire: Historic Building Survey’ (2012)