Reports from our trips
Chester and Quarry Bank Mill
For breakfast at the Rock Farm, I ordered black pudding and sausages to accompany the fried egg. To the horror of my companion, because the English variant of blood sausage is not his case at all. The very thought of it makes him shudder: the pork blood is mixed with cereals and the sausage is fried in the pan for breakfast. Black round disks land on the plate. They look like charred, but are the way they should be. Although not particularly attractive visually, I found the black pudding to be delicious, and the sausages, which certainly, if not directly from the farm, were at least locally produced. Penelope was happy to have found a friend of this British specialty in me. Not many foreigners would like black pudding.
We continued our trip to Chester on the Wales border, 30 minutes away. The capital of the county of Chesire on the River Dee has a city wall from Roman times, on which one can walk around the whole city.
We decided to bypass Liverpool and Manchester, although their visit would have been interesting. Experience has shown us, however, that avoiding larger cities is easier on the nerves. The heavy traffic does not make it easy to find the right way. It is not uncommon to spend some time looking for a parking space that is later missing for the tour.
The oldest English cheese comes from Chesire. Chester is mentioned for the first time in the "Domesday Book", the imperial land register from 1086 commissioned by Wilhelm the Conqueror. It is mainly produced in neighboring Wales and Shropshire. This is due to territorial reforms that have changed the territory of Chesire over the centuries. Chester cheese was particularly popular in the 18th century and also found its fans in Germany. Although production is declining due to the wide range of cheeses from abroad, Chester is still the UK’s best-selling cheese. Because his name is not protected, it is also produced outside the kingdom.
The town of Chester, which has almost 80,000 inhabitants, was founded as Castra Devana by the Romans 2,000 years ago. With their defense system, they protect the market and goods handling area from local Celts. The weir in front of the city wall, which regulates the water level, also dates from this period.
After the withdrawal of the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons defended the city against attacks by Danes. They built a cathedral, which they dedicated to Saint Werburgh, the patron saint of Chester. Werburgh was the daughter of King Wulfhere of Mercia. When her brother Coenred became King of Mercia, he decided to bed the religious who had died eight years earlier. He wanted a more representative tomb in the Hanbury church. When the grave was opened, Werburgh’s body was found almost unchanged, which was interpreted as a sign of special grace from God. From then on Werburgh was worshiped as a saint. In the 9th century, their shrine was moved to Chester to protect it from attacks by the Danish Vikings. He stayed there even after the conquest of the city by the Normans. The Earl of Chester Hugh Lupus had a Benedictine abbey built on the remains of the church. The abbey church was later expanded into a cathedral. From the Norman style to the Victorian Gothic, it has numerous styles. There is still a shrine for Saint Werburgh to this day.
The so-called “Rows” go back to the Middle Ages, two-storey arcades in the city center. It is believed that this peculiarity arose after the great fire in 1278 due to lack of space in Chester. At that time, the city was a supply center for the military in nearby Wales. It was built up high. From the first floor you can see the shops opposite. Given the changing weather conditions, it is surprising that Chester is the only city where you can stroll along the shops and workshops even in the rain.
The richly decorated black and white half-timbering is based on the Tudor style, but it dates back to the Victorian period when the promenade was redesigned. At the eastern city gate there is an ornate clock. It was installed in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria’s 60th anniversary.
Chester is a nice, cozy town with lots of nice little shops and an amazing number of cafes and small restaurants. It is slightly larger than Lüneburg and is used by people in the area (also from nearby Liverpool) for relaxed shopping. The selection is high according to the demands of the townspeople.
On the freeway we drove past Liverpool to Manchester Airport in heavy traffic. It is located around 20 kilometers south of the city center.
With over 25 million passengers a year, it is the second largest international airport after the airports in the Greater London area. The Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 also land here. No wonder that when we approached the M 56, airplanes crossed the highway every few minutes above our heads.
In the immediate vicinity is Quarry Bank Mill, a cloth factory that was built in 1784 by Samuel Greg on the banks of the Bollin.
Greg was born in Belfast. When he was eight, his parents sent him to Manchester. His two uncles Robert and Nathaniel ran a linen trade there, which Greg joined after finishing school. Nathaniel was an alcoholic, so Greg was forced to take over the business when Robert died. Two years later, the only 26-year-old founded Quarry Bank Mill near the village of Styal.
Greg initially focused on spinning cotton. The factory was operated with water and steam power.
He was already a rich man when he married Hannah Lightbody. Like him, she belonged to the Unitarians, a Christian Reformation religious community. Together the two had six daughters and seven sons. In 1796, they moved the family home from Manchester to the factory premises.
From the beginning, Greg was interested in working as efficiently as possible. Influenced by his wife’s religious outlook, this included the well-being of his workers. Greg wasn’t the only one.
The well-known British social reformer Robert Owen was also keen to improve people’s working and living conditions on spinning machines and looms. Owen came from a relatively wealthy family, but was only able to attend school until the age of 10. He then worked his way up from an apprentice in a textile shop to the head of a cotton mill in Scotland. Around 1800 around 2,000 people worked there, including 500 children. Owen saw injustice, hardship, and moral decay that had a destabilizing effect on society as a whole.
Firmly convinced that inhumane working conditions and oppression hamper effective production, he reduced working hours from 14 to 10.5 hours, set up health and unemployment insurance, had apartments built, and gave workers cheap rents. In their own shops they were able to buy products for everyday needs at reasonable prices. In addition, Owen campaigned for a ban on child labor. As a minimum, he called for working hours to be limited to six hours for under-12s. Basic school education should be a prerequisite for employment. With these measures, Owen was able to significantly increase the productivity of his factory. The spinning mill became a model company that Tsar Nikolaus and the Austrian princes Johann and Maximilian also visited.
Similar considerations were based on Samuel Greg’s efforts. He also built residential houses. The apprentices lived in their own apprentice house, which included a garden for healthy self-sufficiency. The children received school lessons on Sundays.
You can see for yourself how children from the age of nine lived there on a tour of the apprentice house. Older women in period costumes lead groups through the house and report vividly on the everyday life of the apprentices. Two to three children slept in a bed, in the morning they were provided with a handful of viscous porridge.
Until 1847, parents from all over the country apprenticed their children to Quarry Bank Mill. The factory was considered particularly humane and progressive. The younger workers "only" had to work 10 hours and were not beaten, as is usual in other factories, if they did not perform as expected. Greg even hired a doctor to treat the children. Peter Holland, father of the royal doctor Sir Henry Holland, was the first doctor to be employed in a factory.
In addition to accidents that occurred repeatedly in the factory when dealing with the dangerous machines, the children had lung problems and swollen eyes from the cotton dust. They were treated with leeches according to the latest state of medicine …
The first inventions to mechanize the production of cotton cloth were just 20 years old at the time: including a machine called a mule. She used hydropower to spin many threads at the same time. It was a huge leap from a spinning wheel with a spindle to the mule with 48 and from 1800 with 400 spools.
In Quarry Bank Mill, the old machines are shown in operation by volunteers from the National Trust, so that you get a very good insight into the time. The huge water wheel installed in 1811 drives the machines with 100 HP. Steam engines were available from the beginning of the 19th century, but it was more economical to use the existing hydropower. Also on view in the museum: a restored steam engine from 1840.
Here you can actually perceive with all senses what history taught us about industrialization: You can understand the uprisings of the weavers, who could not keep up with their work on the looms at home with the machines in the factories. You can imagine how more and more people became unemployed and pushed into the cities. You can imagine yourself in a low-wage life in cramped, damp apartments and in ever greater need. However, one can also grasp the euphoria that drove wealthy people to increasingly daring speculations. Some became unspeakably rich, others lost their last money. The great political currents of modernity as answers to the tremendous upheavals that were triggered by the inventions and technical innovations during this period – all of this becomes understandable when you walk through the factory buildings.
When Samuel Greg was forced to retire in 1832 after a hunting injury, Quarry Bank Mill was the largest spinning mill in Britain. After his death in 1834, his sons Robert took over, John and Samuel Jr. and his son-in-law William Rathbone did the business.
Robert ran Quarry Bank Mill and expanded the spinning mill to the cloth factory. He was elected to Parliament as a MP from Manchester.
John was responsible for the Lancaster and Caton spinning mills and became Mayor of Lancaster.
Samuel Jr. initially ran the Bollington spinning mill, but after failing, threw in the towel and became a priest. The spinning mill was taken over by William Rothbone, who also ran the Bury factory. His wife Elizabeth founded the first public wash houses after the cholera epidemic in Liverpool. It also influenced parliament’s educational legislation.
The last descendant of the Alexander Carlton Greg family left the factory to the National Trust in 1939. He was a farmer with all his heart and was not interested in running the cloth factory, which continued to produce until 1959.
Rise and fall of the Samuel Greg company & Co. bear an impressive record of industrialization. With the help of groundbreaking innovations, the family quickly created a small empire. At the beginning of the 20th century, the operation of the outdated spinning mills with their labor-intensive production methods was no longer profitable. Their location in rural areas also prevented the products from being transported quickly. All spinning mills except Quarry Bank Mill had to close by 1914.
By 1980, the UK textile industry had almost completely disappeared. Around 750,000 jobs were lost – more than in mining, another important pillar of the industrial revolution alongside the iron and steel industry. Textiles are mainly imported from the Third World and emerging countries. The increasing use of plastic fibers also brought the wool industry to a standstill. There are only a few small businesses that continue this tradition in England.
We really enjoyed the visit to Quarry Bank Mill. It is an outstanding museum, in which an incredible amount of effort and attention to detail is put.
The old factory building is surrounded by greenery. At that time, Samuel Greg had leased the land on the condition that no tree be pruned or felled. The wonderful park and the lovingly tended garden give the area a romantic flair.
When we left the museum around 4 p.m., our heads were so full of impressions that we were completely dazed. We struggled past Manchester through the heavy rush hour traffic. 2.5 million people live in the metropolitan area. No wonder if traffic jams occur during the rush hour.
Our next accommodation was about an hour away from Halifax. So we reached the West Yorkshire district. Halifax used to be a location for mechanical engineering and the carpet industry. Today mainly sweets are produced here. The well-known candies in the tin with the name "Quality Street" come from here. The city has 800,000 inhabitants and, with Rochdale, Huddersfield and Bradford in the broader sense, belongs to the agglomeration of the industrial cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, 100 km away. We had now left the industrial heart of the north and with it the heavy traffic behind us and would soon reach the swarming and much-praised lake district, the Lake District, which extends to the Scottish border.
The Halifax foothills were not particularly attractive. Commercial areas and the endless row house settlements so characteristic of England merged. Traffic struggled from one large roundabout to the next. You had to be careful. Not only that you got the right exit. Often you had to classify yourself in good time before entering the roundabout. At the roundabout itself there was no chance to change lanes and take another exit.
Like already one a few days before that, the navigation system showed a short remaining driving time and we started to get nervous: near this so ugly quarter on the arterial road should the hotel I had chosen for that night be? We were already guilty of a mistake on the inside, after all, pictures on the Internet can sometimes be deceptive.
The navigation system led us up a street to the left into a somewhat better residential area and then out of the residential area into a more rural area. We drove down the hill into an idyllic valley in the middle of the country. At the bottom, the 350-year-old Shibden Mill Inn finally snuggled up on the bank of a small stream.
The country inn in the noble English country style is part of a series of various award-winning inns in the upper category. Englishmen come here for a weekend to relax and recharge their batteries. You can hike or celebrate. The gastronomy is high, you can stay in one of the eleven beautiful hotel rooms.
In the very rustic restaurant we spent a very cozy evening with excellent food. This is England you can fall in love with!
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