Quarry Bank Mill: Days Out for a Family Jigging in the Past

Every now and again us Pig Rowers want to remember what it is like to be in the everyday world. We spend most of our days chopping wood, growing food, eating it, storing it and raising our child within our self-sufficientish micro-holding. So now and again we sally forth, go out and about, meet other families, compare notes on toddlers and learn that our toddler isn't the only one to escape at an inappropriate moments. Like when we were busy trying our hands at weaving in the children's corner only to find our toddler had broken free and had climbed up into one of the machinery exhibits. We caught him seconds before he switching on a loom that hadn't been used for fifty years. We must admit as we dragged him away it didn't help that he was yelling, 'Take me back, I want Pinky Ponk, I want to Ponk'. Which sadly sounded like he wanted to bonk machinery to anyone listening who didn't know In The Night Garden. So, with a camera strung around our neck and a toddler clinging to our legs we went forth on the Pig Row day out, hold on to your coats, hats, handbags and toddlers.

Quarry Bank Mill

Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Estate is a hidden gem in the Cheshire landscape. It is one of those places families might not usually consider visiting, especially families with toddlers. The idea of toddlers and Victorian machinery would send the fear of god into any parent but there is much more to this place than looms, cotton and waterwheels. We went on the weekend they were running a Christmas Fayre and with the promise of Father Christmas, Little D was on his best behaviour. Quarry Bank Mill runs regular events for families throughout the year and there is always something for every member of the family.

Christmas Fayre at Quarry Bank Mill

What struck us immediately about the Mill wasn't the architecture, which is imposing, glorious and startling beautiful at the bottom of a steep valley floor. What did strike us was how friendly all the staff were, from the woman on the gate to the man who ran us down and up the hill in a golf buggy. They took time out to speak with you, guide you through the mill and tell you what was available to do. We even dressed up as a Victorian family, we'd share the photo but Little D refused to wear a sailor suit and kind of spoiled the effect sat in our arms in a modern blue raincoat. 

Little D in the hands of his loving Mum.

There was dancing which we all joined in with on the sidelines, Little D going full pelt and for some reason when the band stopped playing he yelled, 'Party on'.

Red faced, and slightly sweaty from all the dancing, Little D spent his time in the Mill running his fingers over all the cotton he could touch, running along the wide corridors and enjoying the staircases which he constantly wanted to go up and down on. He particularly liked it when the adults in the party competed in the bobbin challenge, a game in which you saw how many times you could send the shuttle back and forth, marveling at the upper arm strength our ancestors must have had. For us though it was a chance to share with Little D his family heritage, both Carol and I have close and distant family members who worked in the mills. Quarry Bank Mill brought the reality of this life into focus, from their living quarters, to the rules of the mill, to the back breaking work that was done, day in, day out. It may have been fun for us to spend a day there but there was a serious message behind this, if we don't preserve our heritage, we will never know what the work was like that our ancestors did. It stops us from romanticising the past and shows us the power that cotton once had in the North of England.

In the end though, it wasn't the Mill that got our attention or sparked our imaginations. It was a simple house on the edge of the estate, the Apprentice House and Gardens.

Here a toddler and a family can come into their own. These spacious gardens and orchard allowed us to let Little D off the leash. He ran happily through the naked orchard, the trees were naked not our toddler. This time he kept his clothes on, he only takes them off in the supermarket nowadays. It was wonderful to see an established orchard and compare the tree varieties to our own, we also enjoyed visiting the kitchen as a member of staff took us through the ingredients of the day and explained what they were cooking up for the people who lived there. In each room there was someone dressed in costume, telling you their tales as the maid of the house, the mistress of the house, the cook of the house. There was cake and mulled wine to make us all happy and even though the gardens were asleep there is a sense that in summer the place explodes with growth and activities. It was a great family day out, with plenty of things for a toddler to explore, with staff who love what they do, and plenty of small parks, green spaces,and adventure for adults and children alike.

This day was made available to us by Money Supermarket.