51 Year 8 students visited Quarry Bank Mill, in Cheshire, this week to explore one of the first 18th century cotton mills. On a beautiful spring day, we toured the mill to see the working machinery in action. We also enjoyed a guided tour of the Apprentice House, where up to 90 apprentices as young as 9 years of age lived while they worked 12 hour days (6 days a week!) in the mill.

Highlights included: the chance to see different generations of spinning and weaving technology demonstrated by experts from the pre-industrial spinning wheel and hand-weaving loom, through to the Spinning Jenny and Flying Shuttle.  We also saw a 20th century Spinning Mule that spun over a hundred threads simultaneously and the powered looms where the shuttles flew faster than the eye could see. Even a few powered machines working together made such a racket that students couldn’t hear themselves speak. We could imagine what it would be like with many dozens of machines in a large mill.

The mill staff really brought the experience to life as students were given the chance to do the jobs that 18th century children did in the mill such as: picking up scraps; carrying the can or mending broken threads.  Our students completed the tasks under time pressure and with plenty of verbal “encouragement” from their friends.

In the Apprentice House, the young mill workers (often brought to the mill from workhouses as far away as London) did their school work after a 12 hour day in the mill! Sleeping arrangements were two to a straw mattress and thirty to a dormitory with chamber pots beneath the bed. Breakfast was porridge and lunch was more porridge in a hard fistful taken down to the mill to be eaten during the day. Sharples’ students had plenty to be grateful for when they looked back at life two centuries ago and compared it to today.

All in all, we had a great day out!   We made a tremendous impression as the staff at the mill praised our students for their “Amazing questions!” and for “Being so polite and interested.” It was a great boost to our studies on The Industrial Revolution in Year 8 History this term.