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Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire, British Heritage

copyright (c) Alec & Val Scaresbrook

From the 1750s onwards, the industrial revolution was moving workers out of
their cottages and into purpose-built places of work, with the cotton
industry at the forefront of change. Entrepreneur Samuel Greg saw the
potential for water power in the Bollin Valley, and Quarry Bank Mill was
established in 1784. Later, in the 1820s, terraced houses, complete with
allotment gardens, were built in Styal village for the workers. For his
young pauper workers (so-called apprentices) harvested from the workhouse,
he built an apprentice house. Up to 100 youngsters, aged nine and upwards,
were housed here under the eyes of a superintendent and his wife.

In order to regulate the seed trade in Britain, in particular the problem of
synonyms and dubious claims about crop yields, laws were introduced to trial
all crop cultivars (cultivar = cultivated variety) and compare their
characteristics. Distinct cultivars were placed on a list, and only those on
the list could be sold. Originally the testing and listing was free to seed
companies, but gradually costs crept in, and up, effectively reducing the
cultivars submitted to a limited number of commercially viable ones. So
certain cultivars that small-scale growers and gardeners had favoured,
perhaps due to flavour, long harvesting period, or suitability to local soil
and weather conditions, were lost.

Although a vegetable gene bank exists, this doesn't provide access to
amateur gardeners, so Lawrence Hills (the founder of Garden Organic, an
association for nurturing natural growing methods before they were
forgotten, and research new techniques) came up with an ingenious solution.
It was only illegal to sell unlisted cultivars, not give them away, so why
not have a seed library? The Heritage Seed Library was born, made up of many
cultivars no longer on sale, with a catalogue for library members to dip
into. Old seed can die, so it's important to keep sowing, growing and
harvesting to keep the cultivar alive for future generations. To maintain
supplies, crops for seed saving are grown by Garden Organic and by Seed
Guardians around the country.

When to visit the garden

Apprentice House: open Tues-Sun in summer; Wed-Sun in winter.
Discounted combined rail, bus and entry tickets, enquire at your local
station.

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