Robert Hyde Greg

Robert Hyde Greg

Robert Hyde Greg, the eldest son of Samuel Greg and Hannah Lightbody was born in 1795. After being educated at Unitarian schools in Bristol and Nottingham, Robert went to Edinburgh University.

Robert's mother, a committed Unitarian, valued education highly and insisted her four sons went to university and saw the world before joining the extremely successful family textile business. On his tour of Europe Robert visited France, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

In 1817 Robert joined Samuel Greg & Company and soon afterwards was made a partner. His three younger brothers also became partners: John (1824), Samuel (1827) and William (1830). Robert ran the main mill at Quarry Bank Mill whereas the others looked after other mills owned by the family: John Greg (Lancaster and Caton), Samuel Greg (Bollington) and William Greg (Bury).

Although Samuel Greg retained overall control of the business, he made Robert a senior partner, and granted him 25% of the profits, whereas the younger brothers received only 10%. In the late 1820s Robert became critical of the way his father was running the company. One source of conflict was over the cost and quality of the raw cotton that the mills used. Robert argued that this was the main reason why profit margins fell from 14.9% in 1819 to 8.2% in 1829. Robert was also concerned that the company did not own Quarry Bank. Samuel told his son that he thought the proposed purchase price of £62,643 was too high and preferred to rent the premises.

Samuel Greg pointed out that his business was extremely successful. By 1831 the company owned five factories, over 4,000 power looms, employed over 2,000 people and turned four million pounds of cotton into cloth. Overall, Samuel Greg & Company was producing 0.6% of all yarn and 1.03% of all cloth produced in Britain.

When Samuel Greg died in June, 1834, Robert Hyde Greg took over the running of the company. Over the next twenty years the yarn output in Britain doubled. However, Samuel Greg and Company did not maintain its share of the market. In 1841 Robert disbanded the company and each brother took the mill he was managing. Robert and John succeeded, but both Samuel and William lost money and had to sell their mills.

Robert took a keen interest in politics. As a young man he supported parliamentary reform and criticised the Corn Laws. However, as he got older, he became more conservative and after the passing of the 1832 Reform Act argued against any further extension of the franchise.

Robert Hyde Greg's house, Norcliffe Hall.
Robert Hyde Greg's house, Norcliffe Hall.

Worried about the growth of the trade union movement, Robert believed the education was the best way to protect workers from what he considered to be dangerous ideas. He built a school in the village and promoted the establishment of a Mechanics' Institute in Styal. The village also had Unitarian and Methodist chapels where lessons for the children took place every Sunday.

In 1839 Robert Hyde Greg was elected to represent Manchester the House of Commons. Robert was a strong opponent of factory reform. He disagreed with the 1833 Factory Act and warned that further legislation would damage all concerned. Greg was one of the last factory owners to employ parish apprentices. After the passing of the 1844 Factory Act accepted defeat and the last child ended her term at Quarry Bank Mill in 1847.

By the 1840s the geographical position of a cotton mill was vitally important. Mills had to be close to coalfields and within easy reach of Manchester and Liverpool. Quarry Bank was fairly well situated and Robert continued to make profits from the mill. He also built two more mills at Stockport and Calver.

Quarry Bank continued to be improved and the new water wheel introduced in 1856 was able to generate 172 horse power. Robert also invested heavily in Calver Mill, spending £11,372 between 1847 and 1864. Run by his son, Robert Philips Greg, Calver Mill was larger and more profitable than Quarry Bank.

Robert found it difficult to share power with his four sons. An argumentative man, he made many enemies and it has been said that he was respected more than liked.

Robert Hyde Greg died in 1875.

Primary Sources

(1) Andrew Ure, The Philosophy of Manufactures (1835).

At Quarry Bank, near Wilmslow in Cheshire, is situated the great firm of Greg and Son. At a little distance from the factory, on a sunny bank, stands a handsome house, two stories high, built for the accommodation of the female apprentices. They are well fed, clothed and educated. The apprentices have milk-porridge for breakfast, potatoes and bacon for dinner, and meat on Sundays.