A Healthy Profit explores what life was like for workers at Quarry Bank, who, like those at the hundreds of other cotton mills and factories that sprang up across the north during the Industrial Revolution, experienced terrible working conditions. Life-threatening injuries, infections and particularly cotton lung (caused by a lack of ventilation) were common. Life-expectancy was short, even for those at Quarry Bank – the first known mill to provide healthcare for its workers.
The exhibition is based on new research by the University of Manchester and the original notes of the Knutsford-born surgeon Peter Holland, who attended the mill and has since been deemed a pioneer of occupational medicine. Not for the overly squeamish, visitors will encounter an array of historic medical equipment that would have been used to treat workers, including glass eyes and medical chests complete with powders and potions, as well as leech jars, inhalers and ear trumpets from the Thackray Medical Museum.
Framed as a journey through the different parts of the human body, A Healthy Profit should appeal to adults and children alike, with plenty of interactive displays. It also explores how this history is relevant to health and wellbeing today – effects of pollution, screen time, earphones and diet, as well as the significance of the environment and outdoor spaces also feature in the exhibition.
The terrible conditions of industrial employment for factory workers during the 18th and 19th centuries eventually led to the Factory Acts, an important milestone in the long journey towards the labour laws we now have. This exhibition offers an important look at one chapter in the continuing story of capitalism’s impact on the human body and should prove fascinating for all ages.