The idea came from the story of Great Aunt Hannah who, back in the thirties in order to survive through difficult times, sold off all the furniture save for an earthenware bread bin and their bed. The bread bin thereafter held their food, and acted as a table or stool. With the money, she and her husband bought second hand carpets from auctions and better class homes, which they cut up to sell on the local market. They also bought many other items offered, such as small pictures, clocks, jugs and vases, even chamber pots. Anything saleable was grist to the mill for them to survive. Everything would be loaded on to a two-wheeled hand cart and transported home to their rented terraced house.
Carpets in those days were a luxury, most houses in working class areas covering their floors with lino, although kitchens were generally just scrubbed flags, perhaps with a rag rug made from scraps of old clothes. But when they first went into business they did not have the space or the facilities to properly clean the carpets before putting them up for sale. On one occasion Aunt Hannah was showing a carpet to a prospective buyer when a huge cockroach ran across it. Fortunately he didn’t see it as she quickly grabbed the horrible thing in her hand and held it until the customer had paid for the carpet and left. She must have been a tough lady.
They also bought the entire set of carpets from the German ship SS Leviathan which was being scrapped. In order to do that, and having refurnished from the profit made, they sold everything all over again, repeating this process several times. Gradually their hard work paid off and they expanded, renting the shop next door, and later bought property where they began to sell new carpets, as Polly does in the books. Aunt Hannah was such a kind lady that when my parents, who had married early in the war, finally set up home together in 1945 in rented premises as a shoe repairer, living behind the shop, she gave them a brand new carpet as a gift. They treasured this for much of their married life, as they’d only had Dad’s demob money, and otherwise would have been on bare boards.
I often use family stories, suitably adapted and fictionalised. In this case my aunt had a very happy marriage, not suffering the traumas that Polly was forced to endure.
We enjoyed a fascinating visit to Quarry Bank Mill at Styal, in Cheshire south of Manchester.
This house is where children from aged nine lived and worked. There were about 60 girls and 30 boys, each viewed as an apprentice and had to stay for at least 10 years, or then continued working as an adult. They could work on the land as well as in the mill, the latter involving long working hours. They were also educated, fed, suitably treated medically, and slept upstairs two in a bed. Probably more beds than there are today. The conditions for them were reasonably appropriate, but if they ran off they'd be in trouble.
who had a wife and thirteen children
"On Saturday 25 August, Quarry Bank in Cheshire reopens after a four year transformation project. Quarry Bank was once the site of one of the largest cotton manufacturing businesses in Britain. This £9.4 million transformation project has been supported by National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund and thousands of generous donors. It is one of the biggest projects in the Trust's history, as the conservation charity continues its commitment to bring the stories of its places to life.
Over the last three years, new areas of Quarry Bank have been restored and opened to visitors including the mill owners' home, a workers' cottage and a 19th century curvilinear glasshouse in the kitchen garden.
Now, with new facilities, galleries and interpretation in the mill itself, visitors will be able to experience the entire site for the first time. As one of the most complete survivals of an industrial revolution community, Quarry Bank contrasts the cramped living conditions of the mill workers and pauper apprentices with the grandeur of the owners' family home and picturesque gardens.
Joanne Hudson, General Manager at Quarry Bank, said: "This is an exciting moment for us as we invite our visitors to experience the complete story of Quarry Bank. It tells a story of social change and industrial revolution, rich and poor, mill owner and mill worker, the power of nature and the ingenuity of man; of benevolence and exploitation."
For further details, please visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/quarry-bank/features/transforming-the-mill