Channel 4 Commissioning Editor for History Julia Harrington has commissioned Darlow Smithson to make a powerful new drama series ‘The Mill' (working title) based on the real life story of Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire. Finding its main characters amongst the multitude of workers employed at the Mill, the drama will bring to life what it was really like to be at coalface of the industrial revolution.
At a time of immense social and industrial change, Quarry Bank Mill represented the shining light of modern thinking; the brain child of the financially driven but philanthropic Greg family. Set in the heart of the countryside it is very different to the mills of nearby overcrowded Manchester. Employing hundreds of people, Quarry Bank recruited children as young as nine as unpaid apprentices from orphanages and workhouses; migrants from as far afield as London, Ireland, Scotland and Norfolk flocked to Quarry Bank with its purpose-built village, school, church and surgery.
However the real drive for the Gregs was profit. Hours were long and hard in dangerous and unhealthy conditions which would today be likened to a sweatshop, and for many of this emerging working class, this was their first experience of rules, regulation and employers to answer to. Hard work was rewarded, with one young apprentice eventually becoming the manager of the Mill, but dissention was punished ruthlessly: runaway girls would have their heads shaved.
Rooted firmly in the real history of the Mill, the characters and storylines in the drama will be based on the extraordinary Quarry Bank archive which comprises over 20,000 letters, wage books, contracts, diaries, rent books and interview transcripts.
Julia Harrington says: "It's an incredibly exciting project. The Mill is the perfect prism for this moment in British history but we'll access it all through characters who are recognisable today - rebellious teenagers, upwardly mobile working people, management class riven between profit and conscience. It's the story of an emerging community, full of friendship, humour, rivalries and secrets."
Julian Ware, Creative Director of Darlow Smithson added: "DSP has always had a strong track record in history programming and the move into drama is an exciting new outlet for that expertise." The executive producer is Dominic Barlow who produced the award-winning drama Garrow's Law. The series will begin shooting early next year.
Notes to Editors
Quarry Bank Mill is one of Britain's greatest industrial heritage sites. It comprises an 18th century cotton mill with working machinery, restored Victorian Apprentice House, mill workers' village and country estate set in the valley of the River Bollin at Styal in Cheshire. The National Trust acquired the mill estate in 1939, and it was first opened to the public in 1958. Quarry Bank Mill itself is of international importance, due to the mill and its original estate surviving virtually intact. Elsewhere, similar complexes have lost many of their original buildings, or ownership has become fragmented.
Samuel Greg, Quarry Bank Mill's founder, moved from Ireland to school in England in 1776, and then in 1778 joined his uncles' textile business in Manchester. It was the start of a journey which led him to become one of the most successful cotton manufacturers in the North West. Samuel took over his uncles' business, Hyde and Co, in 1782 and by the 1830s, Samuel Greg and Co owned five cotton mills, producing 0.6% of all yarn and 1.03% of all cloth being made in Britain at that time. Over 300 people worked at Quarry Bank Mill during a period when an average mill employed just 80 workers.
The Greg family were also influential in North West society. They intermarried with many of the most important merchants and manufacturers of the time, including the Lyles (of Tate & Lyle) and the Rathbones (Liverpool merchants).
Quarry Bank Mill is the only water powered Georgian cotton mill still operating in the UK today. Home to the most powerful working water wheel in Europe, and one of the earliest steam-powered beam engines, the Mill has its own village at nearby Styal which was constructed for its workers. Also on site is the Apprentice House - home to pauper children who laboured at the mill in the 19th century.