- How money from slavery made Greater Manchester
- The importance of cotton in north west England
- The Lancashire cotton famine
- Smoking, drinking and the British sweet tooth
- Black presence in Britain and north west England
- Resistance and campaigns for abolition
- The bicentenary of British abolition
Why was cotton so important in north west England?
Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire
Although it is outside Greater Manchester, Quarry Bank Mill at Styal is one of the best surviving examples of an early cotton mill.
Today it is part of the National Trust and open to the public.
Quarry Bank Mill was built at Styal in 1784 by Samuel Greg. The mill was, as were all the early cotton spinning mills, powered by water, hence its location on the river Bollin. The Greg family acquired a reputation as paternalistic employers, eventually developing housing for the operatives working in the mill. Working conditions were considered to be better than in most cotton mills, though the regime at Styal was not without its critics.
Links to slavery
Samuel Greg had inherited a substantial and prosperous textile firm that had been built up by his uncles, Robert and Nathaniel Hyde, whose business interests included a sugar plantation in the West Indies. Blankets and clothes made at Quarry Bank Mill were sent to Dominica as clothing for enslaved Africans who worked on the sugar plantation Greg inherited from the Hydes.
Greg married Hannah Lightbody whose own family included at least one merchant involved in the African trade. Samuel Greg was not the only textile merchant-manufacturer with such connections to slavery in the closing decades of the 1700s. Indeed, given the superior qualities of West Indian cotton, many of the Lancashire cotton businesses established during these boom years relied, directly or indirectly, on supplies of cotton grown and picked on plantations using slave labour. Greg also employed pauper apprentices at Styal, a practice that was later to be condemned by factory reformers as a form of child slavery.
When Samuel died in 1834 the family business passed to his sons, Robert Hyde Greg and Samuel Rathbone Greg. Samuel Rathbone had little inclination for business and developed a career as a writer and critic. One of his early publications was ‘Past and Present Efforts for the Extinction of the African Slave Trade’ (1840), an essay in which he argued that cotton, sugar and coffee could be grown more cheaply by free labour than by enslaved workers in Brazil and America.