Gaskell House Blogs

Uncle Peter Holland

5th February 2020
in blog, People

I’ve recently been completing pen portraits of some of the members of the Holland family – Elizabeth’s uncles and cousins in Knutsford. Included among them was Peter Holland a doctor in Knutsford, brother of Hannah Lumb and uncle to Elizabeth. Its said that she sometimes accompanied him on his horse drawn gig to Quarry Bank Mill where he was the surgeon to the apprentices.

I was telling this to my friend before our visit this week to Quarry Bank, so imagine my surprise when we went in to see the exhibition in the Mill, to find a huge portrait of Peter Holland! The exhibition is called ‘A Healthy Profit’ and explores the physical, mental and emotional toll of working in the mill.

“Keeping a workforce healthy also kept them at work and at quarry Bank, Samuel Greg hired Peter Holland as the first known physician to work in a factory. His records give us a valuable insight into the health of the mill workers.”

There are many quotations from Peter Holland’s medical notes, now archived at Manchester Central Library. These document gruesome treatments such as leeches and blistering for everyday ailments. The mill workers could endure horrific accidents as well: one case is full of glass eyes. There are archive displays of historic medical equipment and explanations of the problems particular to mill workers, such as cotton fibres filling their lungs.

Image Quarry Bank Mill

There is a giant interactive brain, a vision test and a film showing mee-mawing (the form of speech invented by mill workers where exaggerated movements allowed for lip reading amongst the noisy machines).
‘A Healthy Profit’ is on at Quarry Bank until 19th April – well worth a visit to see what Elizabeth’s Uncle Peter was up to and the medical problems of mill-workers that Elizabeth was all too aware of.

Jackie Ould, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

A Large Cheerful, airy house, quite out of Manchester smoke.

Charlotte Brontë on visiting the House, 1851