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A room with (or without) a view

A week at Quarry Bank House, following on immediately from our time cleaning the Quarry Bank mill worker’s cottage had us pondering on living conditions – and how those who were fortunate enough to have a choice decided to build their houses.

The millworkers’ cottages in Styal village (below) were purpose-built by the Gregs to house the mill workforce. Conditions on the estate would have been vastly superior to the poverty and filthy housing endured by most city-based workers in the first half of the 19th century. Each cottage even had its own privy and an allotment.

However, on encountering the mill owners’ own home, admiration of their philanthropic attitude in building decent housing for their workers diminishes a little. The contrast hits you in the face. Compare the cottage’s claustrophobic enclosed stairway (below - you can just about squeeze yourself and a large bucket up it) with the elegant cantilevered showpiece in the owner’s house (not putting on any pictures of that - we’ll leave it for a surprise when you visit).

Everything about Quarry Bank House is understated but superbly proportioned elegance.

But what strikes you most is the view – or rather the lack of it. The house looks out over the terraced gardens and the river that powered the mill – but all of us that worked in there just couldn’t help commenting on the fact that the none of the views was of the mill itself.

The source of their wealth was literally just a few feet away – but, in Hannah and Samuel Greg’s domestic setting, that grimy industrial reality truly could be pushed out of sight.

One of the side effects of travelling for work is that we stay in all sorts of places and gain an insight into other lives which sometimes seem more privileged than our own. These have ranged from the sticky hotel room where we were scared to touch the surfaces with any part of our body (needed far, far more than a conservation clean, that one….), to perfectly presented air bnbs in astonishing locations with charming owners, pets and surprises (Kirk the persistent Cheshire cat was our absolute favourite; the ripe cheesy substance creeping around inside the fridge of another house somewhat less so). There have been times when our feeling of stepping into a different world was probably not very different from how the millworkers felt when looking at the splendour of the Gregs’ elegant home.

Working at Quarry Bank and wondering what our accommodation for the night would be like, we glanced out of the window and spotted the hermit’s cave.

So, as well as affording a house that pretended it was on an idyllic pastoral estate, could the Gregs also afford to pay a hermit to live in a cave? Actually, no, the Trust does not think they did, although apparently hermits and poor families did use these caves before the mill was built and this became part of the view from the house.

Surely that cave would have been our most memorable accommodation option? Margaret certainly looks the part of a hermit, though she would have a lot of trouble with the not talking bit…and she really doesn’t like cave spiders.