Nestled in the Cheshire countryside, Quarry Bank Mill offers a kind of rugged industrial beauty. Comprising an original eighteenth century Mill, an Apprentice House, Styal village, and a beautiful surrounding landscape of wooded areas and gardens, Quarry Bank forms one of the more unique National Trust sites one can visit.
When we were given a list of possible work placement options to choose from, I was immediately drawn to Quarry Bank Mill for this very reason- the fact that it was not one of the more typical ‘grand houses’ so pervasive amongst the Trust’s properties. Furthermore, the role which was being offered at Quarry Bank Mill was that of an ‘exhibitions volunteer’ who would be given the opportunity to develop exhibition content, as well as gaining experience in supporting areas such as collections and research, and marketing.
The work placement at Quarry Bank Mill ended up being quite surprising in its subject matter. Rather than working on a more conventional exhibition which might have explored the lives of Mill workers, or the working conditions for the apprentices, I was working on an exhibition which will be coming to Quarry Bank Mill as part of touring programme in September 2017. The exhibition, entitled ‘Changing Places’, is based around moving-image works by artists from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and explores the relationship between space, buildings, and the human population, through various lenses. As such, my work at Quarry Bank Mill was interesting in that, by nature, it encouraged me to not only draw on the past, but to create connections and forge links between the history of Quarry Bank Mill and other contemporary industrial spaces across the world.
My role primarily involved writing the interpretation which will be displayed alongside one of these films, and providing a comprehensive list of suggested materials from the on-site archive which would complement this display. This meant that most of my time was spent compiling primary and secondary research for the exhibition panel, and also sifting through boxes of letters and photographs from the archive.
Compiling the list of materials from the archive which would complement the exhibition was particularly interesting as it meant searching for photographs of the Mill during its period of abandonment in the 1960s. As Quarry Bank Mill is currently in the midst of cataloguing its archival materials, this process was a bit haphazard at times, but, in a way, this made it all the more interesting. Furthermore, the opportunity to produce a piece of writing which will appear at the exhibition provided a clear structure and goal throughout the placement, as well as being personally rewarding. All of this occurred in a peaceful but vibrant setting which offered an escape from the usual landscape of the city centre.