Again I’m slipping a post in between the progression of Harriette’s story and taking you back to the middle of last week, when I spoke about Quarry Bank Georgian Mill and the history of spinning and weaving cotton. Today I am going to tell a bit about life at the mill in the 18th Century.
There’s an amazing Apprentice House just up the road from the mill, sadly I couldn’t take any pictures inside, so you are going to have rely on me verbally painting the scene for you.
In this period of the 18th Century industrialisation had put many people out of work and the poor houses were overflowing with men, women and children in need of food and shelter. So men like Samuel Greg, who built Quarry Bank Mill, saw an opportunity for cheap labour, they went to the poor houses to obtain children who would work for food and board under the definition of being apprenticed to learn a trade (exactly Oliver Twist style).
They were taken away from their parents at seven or eight and brought to the Apprentice House miles away from home, and they would then be asked to sign away their lives until they were sixteen, when they would be employed or leave. They were literally asked to sign a contract which said they agreed to be Samuel Greg’s possession for that period of their lives, it gave them no rights and no wages for their labour, beyond a bed, a roof, and food; they became slaves basically.
The boys and girls were kept in separate rooms in the house. The girls all slept in one large whitewashed dormitory with a hatch to let them in and out, which was locked when they went in at night and opened again at five in the morning when they had to get up to go to work. The girls were crammed into rows of beds, with straw pallets and a single blanket, wide enough to top and tail three, and you can imagine when the locks were secure, the bitter arguments and bullying the younger ones perhaps endured. As far as possessions, they had a single peg for spare clothes and nothing more.
The boys were split across three rooms, because they’d fight, but again were locked away at night, like animals.
They worked, then breakfast was taken down to the mill, and again just like Oliver Twist, they ate gruel, a dollop of porridge, not from a bowl, but placed into their hand. They had the same for lunch, another dollop, but this time seeds or vegetables had been mixed into it as the Gregs were emancipists and believed in keeping their apprentices healthy (we were told most apprentices would only be fed once a day). Their evening meal was more substantial and two or three times a week they had meat. The real difference from Oliver Twist though was that they were allowed more. The Gregs believed the children could do more work if they weren’t hungry.
But the negative aspect of the Gregs emancipation, was that Samuel Greg’s wife Hannah believed the children should be educated. So after a gruelling ten-hour day at the mill, the children came back to the Apprentice House and had to do their chores, planting and tending the vegetables, feeding animals, cleaning rooms, emptying out the toilet pits… And then after all this Hannah Greg insisted they had lessons to teach them how to read and write. They must have been too exhausted to learn a thing.
You might think Sunday, a day when the mill stopped running, would be a day they could recoup but no, on a Sunday, they had to wash and put on a clean outer layer of clothes and then walk six miles to church. Then for the only time in their week they had a few hours to play or do as they wished after a meat dinner, before they had to walk another six miles back to church for the evening service.
Were the children happy? Certainly some of them weren’t as they ran away, but in comparison to other mills, or the poor house, or having nowhere to live… Their lot was better than most.
While the children were working Hannah Greg enjoyed a social life which was equivalent to any ton society madam in London, she gathered together the bright and artistic of Manchester, and invited them to her home to debate and discuss common interests. She was highly respected in the area, but the fabulous thing was she wrote lots of letters and journals recording all she did and what she thought. One of those characters from history that I love, as I find these the best way to really discover how people lived and what they were like, by reading their thoughts. So of course, I bought the book, maybe more on Quarry Bank Mill, and Hannah Greg, at a later date then…
Come back on Sunday for Harriette’s story.
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark
2 thoughts on “Life in a Georgian Cotton Mill – Oliver Twist style – At Quarry Bank Mill”
I know Quarry Bank very well – a fascinating post!
I found it really interesting there, when I didn’t expect to learn all that much. 🙂