The foresight of Samuel Greg in Styal, Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 10:17 15 January 2010 | UPDATED: 18:57 17 February 2018
If it hadn't been for a forward-looking industrialist of Irish descent, the tiny village of Styal may never have blossomed into the tourist attraction it is today
Styal could so easily have remained a small hamlet with a few isolated cottages and farms. But in 1784 along came Samuel Greg who saw the possibilities of the River Bollin and built a cotton spinning mill there in the middle of some beautiful countryside.
Not only that, but he provided houses for his workforce including a special house for child apprentices. By the 19th century Styal, near Wilmslow, became a real community with its added chapel, school and shop.
Today with its close proximity to Manchester Airport and the motorway system it has become a popular commuter village with some stylish residences.
Quarry Bank Mill, as it is known, and the surrounding country park are now owned by the National Trust. Bob Hardiker has been the Visitor Services Manager there for the past three years.
'I was working in local government at Congleton and fancied doing something different,' he says. ‘The National Trust is a charity and the mill and other attractions here pay their way. Last year visitors totalled 102,000. After the new garden was opened it went up to 130,000 and we have 30,000 school children who enjoy visits here.
We also have 250 volunteers who willingly give their time and energy ranging from those who operate the steam engines to guides who take
visitors around the estate.We provide family craft activities and we sell tea towels in the shop which is a by-product of the cloth-weaving demonstrations.
We have many visitors from abroad and a club visit from Australia is already being booked for 2010.'
Alan Knapper is head gardener of the estate and is responsible for the recent transformation of the Secret Garden. 'It was a secret garden for the Gregs themselves,' says Alan. 'It was out of bounds for the mill workers.
The style of the garden has changed over the years and we have peeled back the layers to get to the bottom of the garden when its style was picturesque.
It is a five year on-going restoration programme and I am enjoying the challenge tremendously.' Alan has been helped in his task by deputy gardener Dorothy Wilson and 60 volunteers as well as some ladies from nearby Styal Prison. The garden covers eight acres. 'My favourite part is the Bluebell glade near the top of the garden,' says Alan. 'It has a unique atmosphere.'
Their work has won them the Director Diploma Award for Engagement Through Conservation:Visitors by the National Trust. Charlotte Bridge always fancied working in historical environments and Quarry Bank Mill has lived up to her expectations since she arrived two years ago as Learning and Interpretation Officer.
'I deal with schools coming to the mill,' she says. 'In winter we have 250 children a day and about 200 in summer. The children spend a whole day at Apprentice House when they are studying the Victorian Age and they find out what it would be like.
They are given gruel at lunchtime and do chores round the house. They learn to make bread as well as poultices and other medical things. They come dressed for the part and it can be quite an experience for them.'
The delightful village school with its four classrooms, seven teachers and 107 children was built by the Greg family in 1823 and is attached to a row of terraced houses built in those days too.
Sally Hunt, the school's business manager says that a high proportion of children come from Styal but they also take them from Gatley, Cheadle, Heald Green, Handforth, Wythenshawe and Manchester. 'Being a small school - probably one of the smallest primary schools in the area - we see the differences we make to these children.
Parents feel that it is a very family caring school and they are tremendous,' says Sally. 'It is a grade 2 listed building but is quite small and we have applied for funding to upgrade facilities including a bigger hall and kitchen. I love my job here. It is an idyllic placed to work and it is stuck in time. The neighbourhood and village people are involved in everything we do.
We are also a Gold Arts Mark School which in the trade is quite something. It is really arts across our curriculum.We do a lot of music and have an orchestra as well as after-school clubs.' Jan Dixon is the deputy head mistress and Helen Smith took over as head mistress in January this year.
The 39 Steps in Styal was Cheshire Life restaurant of the year in 2007/8. Owner Jon Rebecchi has been there nearly three years and has been in
catering all his life. ' We serve modern British food with a hint of Europe,' he says,' and we use mainly local produce.'
And no, the restaurant does NOT have 39 steps. 'Not unless you run up and down them several times,' laughs Jon. 'It was a sister restaurant to the one in Manchester. This is a quality village restaurant with local produce and where you get value for money.' Alongside Jon is Duncan Poyser who was North West Chef of the Year 2004/5.
Kirk's the butchers has been owned by David and his brother Stuart Kirk for 24 years. 'My grandfather's brother had a shop in Macclesfield in the 1920s and my grandfather was a farmer. There were four farms in Mobberley which has since been taken over by my dad. This was originally a farm but our shop is where they used to keep corn.We have
people coming from Chester, Blackpool, Sheffield and Yorkshire to buy our meat.
We make our own pies, cure our own bacon make our own sausages and we are famous for our venison from Dunham Massey.'
The original waterwheel at Quarry Bank Mill has been replaced by one from Pateley Bridge in Yorkshire. It is the most powerful waterwheel still in use in Britain. The Queen Mother visited it in 1986.
Samuel Greg's son Robert Hyde Greg was responsible for introducing rhododendron bushes to the secret garden in 1850. They came from China.
Styal Station celebrates its 100th anniversary in May this year. A special fun day at Quarry Bank Mill will be held to mark the occasion on May 17th. The station has a 'friends' group who are campaigning for a restoration of rail services to benefit the Styal community and visitors to the local attractions and Styal Prison. They are also enhancing the appearance of the station.