Learning About Cotton 1

Last Friday we visited Quarry Bank Mill, just outside Manchester, where not only the children but we adults learned a thing or two. The mill is set in peaceful surroundings which gave no hint to what we found on entering the mill. Many of the machines have been restored to full working order and one or another of them was working most of the time we were there. We began our visit on the top floor where there were various displays but the main part of the visit is on the lower levels. On the third floor we learned about carding the raw cotton so it could be wrapped around a spindle which was then attached to the spinning wheel. We learned how the spinning stretched and twisted the cotton into yarn to be used for weaving. We saw a hand loom and then learned about the advent of the Spinning Jenny. From this room we entered a long workshop full of mechanical weaving looms. Nothing could have prepared us for the noise. Once we were in a quieter area we talked about how people had to work for 12 – 14 hours a day with no ear defenders. What was interesting was that all the loom were producing cloth which, we later found, was made into tea-towels and other gifts which were sold in the shop. We carried on our tour, learning how cotton spinning had progressed from the spinning wheel and the Spinning Jenny to the water driven spinning machines and Cromptons Mule, a magnificent machine, fully restored to working order. It was amazing to watch in action. We found out about the people who worked at the mill, how the young children, the women and the men were valued differently and the types of work they did. The children were particularly intrigued with the story of one little boy, whose job was to clear the lint from behind the Mule. They found it hard to believe that only a few hundred years ago they would have been working for 12 hours a day in a mill like this. Further on we learned why mills were built by rivers, making it possible to harness the power of the water in the days before steam. The children learned how to divert water to run the waterwheels by playing with the interactive exhibits. Then we discovered how the water wheel drove all the machinery. Back outside we saw the original water diversion and the actual sluice gates used to control the flow. We spent so much time in the mill we have got to go back to see the Apprentice House and the workers cottages in the village. 

Following this trip the children are now looking at the cotton industry. Today they have looked at where cotton comes from. They have discovered that it needs a certain climate to grow. They have looked at the life cycle of a cotton plant. They have thought about how we still value cotton today. The work of the older children has involved research, reading, note-taking, discussion and written work. The youngest has done a Cotton Treasure Hunt where he had to read the clues in order to discover how many things we have around the house which are made of cotton. He also had a worksheet to record his answers. He is now reading the labels in all his clothes to see if they are made from cotton.  


For more about our day at the Quarry Bank Mill, click here

For more information about visiting Quarry Bank Mill, click here

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