Friday, January 27, 2017

Milling Around the Mill (and Other Excursions)


On Wednesday we toured Quarry Bank Mill, one of the two working cotton mills in the UK. Built in 1784 it is the oldest mill in continual use. It was also the subject of the Channel 4 series The Mill. You may remember that we watched the first episode at the professors' flats a few weeks ago to get a sense of the conditions of the working class. It was really amazing to recognize the buildings as we were walking around. 

A view of the mill

I couldn't fit the whole mill building into one frame, but here is most of it

The tour was all self-guided, which allowed for us to take it at our own pace. We began the tour in the mill building itself. It opened with an exhibit on the work women performed in the mill, and in their personal lives. In essence, it was showing how women were undervalued for doing as much (if not more) work than the men. 

Quarry Bank Mill is still operational, so as you go through the building there are docents exhibiting how machines work and answering questions. They trace the transition from the cottage industry of the cotton industry to the industrial industry. It was fascinating to see the impact that industrialization had on the production of cloth. Being able to witness that transition really enhanced my understanding of the process of production.

The mill has floors full of machinery, and you can even go see the wheel that powers the building. Its pretty crazy to come to terms with the scale of something that we have been studying. In class the topics seem so abstract because we can't see what we are talking about, but the mill really made the class feel real. 

The tour of Quarry Bank Mill isn't just the tour of the mill; there are also extensive grounds, a garden, the mill owner's house, the apprentice house, and the workers' village (Styal Village). Styal Village is not open for tours (as the buildings are now expensive houses) but you are able to walk around the outside of the houses. It was amazing to gain a better understanding of the living conditions in Manchester (although Styal Village had much better conditions than the city). 

The grounds of Quarry Bank Mill

Here is a view of the mill that was last seen 200 years ago before the grounds became overgrown

We were able to take a guided tour of the Apprentice House. I think this was my favorite part of the tour. The Apprentice House is where the child workers lived. There were up to 90 children living in the house with two supervisors. They worked, on average, 12 hour days and then had to go back and do chores. They had one free day a week (Sunday) but it was filled with schooling and Church. From a modern perspective the conditions the children were living in was terrible, but it was actually some of the best housing children could receive. Most of the child workers came from workhouses, where they had been abandoned by their families. The docent explained how children had to pass the medical test to be able to work (it was incredibly easy to pass) and then they worked for 9 years as apprentices in the mill. Most children then signed on to work in the mill after reaching age 18, so the conditions must not have been terrible, at least that is the reasoning the docent gave us. 

This is the Apprentice House

This is one of the dormitory rooms. Children slept 2 to a bed, and there were up to 90 children in the house.

We continued our historical explorations on Thursday with a visit to the Pankhurst House. We visited a few weeks ago, but were unable to tour; so it was decided that we needed to return. 

This is the outside of the Pankhurst Centre (interesting fun fact Emmeline, Sylvia, and Christabel Pankhurst are all listed on the plaque, but Adela Pankhurst is not)

I really enjoyed the tour, even though Emma and I have already researched the family extensively. It was kind of a bummer because they basically went through our entire presentation (not that it will make us change our presentation, it is just helping us adapt what we will be talking about). It was really amazing to visit again, I don't think I will ever recover from the fact that I stood where suffrage started. 

After the tour Emma and I went to the archives at the People's History Museum to continue our research. All of the information they had for us was on microfilm, so we learned how to use a microfilm machine. It was pretty crazy using a machine that I've only read about. The sources we were using were records of The Suffragette a newspaper edited by Christabel Pankhurst and distributed by the Women's Social and Political Union (founded by Emmeline Pankhurst). The material we were looking at was fascinating! It helped us decide how we wanted to present our research, and really gave me pause after recognizing the similarities between the early 1900s and today (particularly the struggles faced by women). 

As part of our Farewell to Manchester efforts, Emma and I are trying to go to all of our favorite places. This quite obviously meant another stop at Caffe Nero! (I'm actually writing from Caffe Nero right now). 

As this trip winds down I'm trying to be more present in the moment, and thankful for the experiences I was able to have in Manchester. If I have learned nothing else on this trip (and I have learned a lot), it is that I am committed to living abroad at some point in my life.


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