Quarry Bank Mill, Part 4

Manchester/Bath UK Journal Day 3

Sale, Manchester, UK

I almost wrote “Day 2” since I only arrived yesterday, but then I remembered the full. Bloody. Day. Of. Travel. Friday. 

Today was a glorious day at Quarry Bank Mill, and especially in that I have found my angle for the Gaskell side of this project.  I think the project may have to be split into two separate articles, the Gaskell and the Austen, and deliver both to separate audiences.  I have submitted an abstract of the Austen section already to an edition coming out next year; I find out the end of March if it’s been accepted.  As for the Gaskell part, I wonder if the Gaskell Society Journal might be a home for it. 

Part of the problem with academic work is finding a suitable home for it, and especially when a project is as weird as this one—academic and autobiographical, both—it will be, as I told the National Trust Worker today, either adored or never published.  It will either be published right away, or will languish in a drawer forever.  I certainly hope the former.

Today, I went to the Mill after a tram and two bus rides, and arrived close to 11:00 a.m. when it opened.  I sat and had a cup of tea while I blogged, and then I took the tour of the Apprentice House, where some 90 children were housed during the Industrial Revolution (the guide said roughly 60 girls and 30 boys).  While the rooms are unmarked, they have made guesses based on historical descriptions as to what went where.  Perhaps most shocking was the girls’ dormitory, which seemed no larger than an average sized living room or den, and it housed so many young women, two to a bed.  While the guide insisted that the Mill living, while harsh, was better than the Workhouses, indentured servitude never sounds fair, regardless of the fact that they got new clothes and enough to eat.

Then, I went to the Mill café and had a cheddar and onion pie with mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, and, of course, gravy over everything, and a millionaire’s bar, which seemed to be chocolate covered shortbread (nom nom nom).  After that, I went to the Mill Shop and racked up on the following books: A History of Lancashire Cotton, Mill Life at Styal, Quarry Bank National Trust Guide, My Story: Mill Girl (a tween historical fiction novel), A Lady of Cotton: Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill, Memories of the Lancashire Cotton Mills, Spinning and Spinning Wheels, The Victorians and Edwardians at Work, and The Cotton Industry.  I also purchased some stamped toile made at the Mill for framing at home.  They had copies of the Mill series the BBC ran over the summer, filmed at the Mill but unfortunately, it wasn’t in the US Region so I couldn’t watch it when I got home.

After that was the Mill itself.  I took this slowly, savoring each part.  First was “Style at Styal,” a fantastic exhibit examining clothing at Quarry Bank Mill from 1850-1950, from all classes, based on photographs.  They reconstructed the garments based on the photographs they had, and they were gorgeous!  Crinolines and bustles, corsets on display, this little fashion academic was in historical heaven. 

After I left the exhibit, I went into the Mill itself.  There were several displays, starting with spinning wheels and carding cotton, moving onto weaving with the hand shuttle, and then moving into the spinning Jenny and the automatic shuttle.  An amazing historical demonstration was given on every step, and I got to watch cotton from its raw state morph into thread, then a textile.

Next, I entered the parts of the Mill that had working machines, and God in heaven, the racket!  The National Trust makes the workers wear headphones to protect their ears, but it was no wonder so many workers didn’t go deaf.  But the machines.  The beautiful testaments to the Industrial Revolution.  Carding cotton, making thread, making textiles.  They were just gorgeous.

When I entered the underbelly of the Mill, however, I knew that this was what the Victorian era smelled like: oil and iron, like a great monstrous machine.  The giant wheel that turned and powered the Mill at one time was so impressive, so huge, that I stood staring, unable to pull my eyes away.  If I ever wondered what the Industrial Revolution was, or what the Victorian era was, it was here, in these machines, in this place.

After I visited the Mill, I returned to the café, got a cappuccino, and wrote out the blog entry that precedes this one.  I then visited the Mill grounds and gardens, walking all the way to the top of the property (a hike, let me tell you!) and saw flowers.  That’s right: flowers.  Having spent this last winter in the Midwest, I had forgotten what they looked like!  Daffodils so beautiful I finally understood why Wordsworth wanted to keep them in his mind’s eye!

But time was getting on, and it was about then I had to catch my first bus.

Three buses later, one of the drivers informed me that I could have gotten a day pass and saved myself some money.  But no one had told me, and all the buses are operated by different companies, I had no idea!  So I went back to the Guesthouse, exhausted but happy.

After I dropped off my bags, I headed back up to Sale Town Centre for dinner, popping in at the same pub I ate at last night (when in Rome…).  I got another garden salad, a burger, and fries.  The mile I walked there, while starving, wasn’t painful, but the mile back, full of burger, was very much so.  All told, I have walked about 5 miles today.  Not bad for the English, but for a lazy American like myself?  Not so much.

Tomorrow.  Tomorrow, I go to the Rylands Library to look at some of Gaskell’s letters (*swoon*) and then, in a whirlwind idea, I am heading to Knutsford to see Elizabeth Gaskell’s grave and the town she based Cranford on.  I had no idea Knutsford was so close to where I’m staying, and it seems like a perfect afternoon before I say good-bye to the North for the South.  I am taking Margaret Hale’s journey in reverse, going from Manchester to Bath, to see Jane Austen’s haunts.

I’m exhausted, Gentle Reader.  It took a lot for me to stay up and finish this blog, so I know you’ll forgive me for stopping it here.  I do have so much more to tell you, but I think that might be best saved for tomorrow (and tomorrow, and tomorrow).  Until then.

2 thoughts on “Quarry Bank Mill, Part 4”

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