Children's Working Conditions in Textile Mills
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Children's Working Conditions in Textile Mills
In this essay, I am going to analyse the source material that I have
been given. These sources describe the working conditions of children
working in textile mills; I am going to conclude if they are reliable
The conditions of children working in textile mills during the late
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, were in some mills inhumane
but in many mills such as Quarry Bank Mill indications are that the
conditions in the mill were good. Source A says that workers were "
Well paid, comfortable" however mills were rarely inspected.
This quote reflects the view that Samuel Greg actually did care for
his workers, but that he was also a shrewd businessman because he knew
that a healthy workforce would reap rewards and profit. The children
worked shifts of "12 hours" and this paid for their accommodation as
they weren't paid, they only received money if they worked overtime
which would pay them 1 penny an hour. Sickness was rare "Mr Greg pays
the doctor for all medicines" in Quarry bank Mill. During 22 years
"Seventeen deaths" occurred which for the period was very low indeed.
From my visit to Quarry bank Mill, I can also comment on what happened
"outside" of the mill. Samuel Greg built an apprentice house the
accommodation was good considering that many of his children were
paupers and had previously never slept in a bed. The mattresses were
made of straw and placed in a wooden frame that was made from solid
oak. At the time due to malnutrition the average height of the women
was 4.8m and the average height of the men 5.2m the beds were very
small and they also had to sleep two to a bed. They were educated, but
only boys were allowed to progress onto the top table and use
expensive paper and quill pens.
Samuel Greg also fed them good-quality food. They were given porridge
that was packed with oatmeal and on certain days they were given bacon
and potatoes to eat.
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Compared to other mills this food was luxurious, Why did he do this?
This was due to the business mind Samuel Greg possessed he was always
trying to limit his workforce of disease that is why he gave them
fresh, clean water to drink and good food to eat. The health of the
workers was impeccable compared to other places.
Some children ran away but after they had escaped they realised that
the mill treated them well and that the conditions weren't as bad as
other mills, so many returned within a couple of weeks, some even
days! One girl, named Esther Price ran away with another girl Lucy
Garner after they had assaulted another worker and they didn't want to
face up to the punishment awaiting them.
Esther returned 10 days or so later she went to visit her family in
Liverpool, the reasons for her return aren't sure. I believe the poor
conditions disturbed her and therefore she rushed back to the mill as
fast as her legs could carry her.
When she returned "both (argued) against the severity of cutting off
the girls hair" this according to Robert Hyde happened between Mrs
Shawcross and Sally (Robert Hyde's Sister).
Esther and Lucy were both confined to a small room "the windows were
boarded", this may seem harsh but wasn't as serious as the punishment
given out in other mills.
Compared to other mills Quarry Bank Mill was a good place to work if
you were a child. In other mills the cotton master labelled the
children to be "his property". The shifts varied " worked in shifts of
twelve, fifteen, or more hours" the finishing times weren't regular,
like in Quarry Bank Mill.
The factories "generally dirty, unhealthy" weren't hygienic. The
apprentice houses' weren't like the one at Quarry Bank Mill that was a
separate house "usually long, low
Sheds adjoining the factory." Whereas only 17 children died in 22
years at Quarry Bank Mill because of clean water that prevented
diseases, "dens of fever and vice" this describes an apprentice house
in other mills.
The punishments in other mills were cruel and unjust; children were
often "flogged" if they were tired. One worker "was hung by his wrists
over moving machinery" in another mill and was forced to "avoid
mutilation" of his legs by suspending himself up. This type of
punishment was common in many mills and didn't disturb many people who
knew about it. Yet this type pf punishment at Quarry Bank Mill was
unheard of and unthinkable.
The food wasn't sufficient they ate hot boiled potatoes only, they
were made to eat with their hands that were greasy and dirty and they
probably have never heard of spoons or forks before. The separation of
sexes in Quarry bank mill was a must, but in other mills they were
"herded" together " the room filled with a multitude of young persons
of both sexes" which caused many problems.
One major difference was that the children weren't educated. Samuel
Greg believed in educating his workers, but other mills didn't
approve. This didn't help the workers, as they weren't totally aware
of the real dangers of machines. Samuel Greg knew education was the
key to success and profit.
Frederick Engles, who supported and campaigned for the rights of the
labouring classes, wrote the evidence I used from Source A. With my
visit to Quarry bank and the fact that Frederick Engles campaigned for
labouring classes and he described the mill as a nice place to work is
sufficient evidence to conclude that this source is reliable.
Source B, again is only extracts from an interview. In this source
factory inspectors who had never visited Quarry Bank Mill are
questioning the superintendents. This source may not be reliable
because the presence of Samuel Greg, questions the authenticity of the
information in this source because his employers would not have spoken
unfavourably about the treatment of the children. However the doctors
own records suggest that the children were well cared for and disease
Source C, is a passage taken from " A Social and Economic History of
Britain, 1760-1792" by Pauline Gregg. The source is a secondary source
because it was written in the 20th Century and constructed with
primary data taken from accounts and sources written at the time. The
source is reliable because sources written at the time back up the
message the author is trying to deliver.
Source D, is an account given by Robert Hyde (who inherited the mill
after his father's death) the owner of Quarry Bank Mill in 1843. The
source isn't reliable as there are two accounts of this punishment one
by Robert Hyde and a Worker at the mill. They both describe the
punishment completely contrary and as Esther Price never wrote about
we will never know what really happened, so the source isn't reliable.
Source F, is an illustration made at the time of a mule- spinning
factory. The source seems reliable, because there are children
clearing under moving machines that is something that can never be
questioned. The machines seem to be the same size as the ones situated
in Quarry Bank Mill. So overall this source is reliable.
In my conclusion, all the sources of information suggest that Quarry
Bank mill wasn't typical of working conditions in factories during the
late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There were striking
differences between Quarry Bank Mill and other mills in their handling
of children. Samuel Greg was very business-minded and
knew how to make his business successful and to also build a good
reputation. Therefore it was to his advantage that he treated his
workers fairly and he benefited from this, because some of his workers
stayed on till they were adults. In Styal many apprentices made the
transition to free labour. They would find lodgings in the village.
In conclusion, I believe that it is safe to say that Quarry bank Mill
wasn't typical of working conditions in mills during the late
eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the workers were treated as
humans and not as slaves like in other mills, and they were given food
that was full of nutrition. The punishments were very lenient compared
to the standard of punishment in other mills. I can also back this up
because I visited the mill personally and was given this information
by the guide in the apprentice house, and also some original documents
from the mill were displayed. Many stated the working conditions of
children in the mill, these seem to be reliable, as they are primary
sources and written either by children who worked there or people who
inspected or had visited the mill.
The true story behind Quarry Bank Mill - the inspiration for the Channel 4 drama
PUBLISHED: 00:14 29 August 2013 | UPDATED: 19:18 07 January 2018
WORDS BY HOWARD BRADBURY
Quarry Bank House in Styal, c National Trust and Andrew Butler
Channel 4’s drama The Mill - set and filmed at Quarry Bank Mill in Styal - told a fascinating tale of hard times and social upheaval. But it did not tell one uncomfortable truth about mill owner’s wife Hannah Greg
The stirring TV drama The Mill showed Hannah Greg at a meeting in Manchester to campaign for the emancipation of the slaves.
And Hannah – the liberal driving force behind the paternalism of her mill-owning husband Samuel – was surely an opponent of slavery. But the acclaimed TV drama used artistic licence in two respects. Firstly, at the time The Mill was set, in the 1830s, Hannah was already dead. Secondly, she had through her latter years kept silent on the vexed question of slavery.
‘She was liberal and compassionate by nature, and all her friends were active campaigners to stop the slave trade and to move forward the emancipation of the slaves in the West Indies and America,’ says David Sekers, museum director at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, from 1978 to 1989 and author of a newly published book about Hannah Greg, A Lady of Cotton.
‘In reality, Hannah Greg did not say anything publicly about this because, apart from anything else, Samuel Greg inherited slave plantations. She couldn’t be a public hypocrite so she kept quiet.’
Samuel, on the other hand, would have regarded slavery as ‘a fact of life’, despite his reputation as a compassionate and progressive manager of Quarry Bank Mill, says David who was historical consultant to the programme makers. Though the mill was regarded as ‘a model of paternalism’, tending to the health and well-being of its workers, the reality was that amid the machines were children as young as nine, working a 69-hour week.
By the 1830s, some were beginning to question whether an army of orphans, waifs and strays pressed into the service of British mill owners were very different from the slaves on the plantations.
‘When the mill was started, Hannah Greg was a profound good influence on the way it was set up,’ says David. ‘She was pleased that the community of mill workers at Styal – some of whom she had seen arrive as young children – grew up, married and had children and lived in the community. People who came with nothing had achieved a lot, shown their potential and lived a moral, decent life.’
Hannah, who bore 13 children, 12 of whom survived, even wrote five books of moral instruction to guide the apprentices, and her own children, in how to lead a useful life. She died in 1828 having suffered for years with gallstones for which she dosed herself with laudanum.
Hannah Lightbody grew up an ‘exceptionally gifted’ Liverpool girl, daughter of a merchant who died when she was 12.
‘She was well-educated in a lively dissenting community in Stoke Newington in London with great revolutionary figures of the day like Mary Wollstonecraft (writer and women’s rights campaigner) as her neighbours,’ says David. ‘She came back to Liverpool and met some of the great activists and thinkers and abolitionists. She heard the first sermon against slavery and all her friends were abolitionists.’
Hannah married merchant Samuel Greg in 1789, and threw herself into the welfare of the workforce whose toil swelled the family fortune.
‘She managed a tremendously busy domestic life at Quarry Bank House, with masses of bright people – professors, archaeologists and thinkers – coming for lunch, tea and dinner,’ says David. ‘It was a cosmopolitan world she ran, unlike almost any other provincial mill owner’s wife.’
For all her enlightened principles, however, she could not bring herself to proclaim publicly on that great issue of the day, slavery.
‘I found one scrap of paper in the archives which was a quotation from a book which was condemning the slave trade, over which she’d written a note to the effect that being silent on this subject is unbelievably painful,’ says David. ‘I take that to mean it was the most unbearable thing not to able to say what she felt and believed about the slave trade.’
A Lady of Cotton: Hannah Greg, Mistress of Quarry Bank Mill by David Sekers is published by The History Press at £9.99
• Quarry Bank Mill was built by Samuel Greg on the banks of the River Bollin at Styal in 1784, and went on to manufacture cotton products for almost 200 years.
• By 1860, Quarry Bank was the headquarters of one of the largest cotton businesses in Britain, with five other mills in Manchester, otherwise known as Cottonopolis.
• Over half of Samuel Greg’s workforce were poor and orphaned children, for whom The Apprentice House at Styal was built in 1790.
• The children were given good medical care by the Greg family doctor, and education in writing and maths three nights a week.
• Although the child workers were not subjected to corporal punishment, bad behaviour brought overtime, threats that girls would have their heads shaved or young workers being locked in a room for days on a porridge-only diet.
• Esther Price, the feisty Scouse mill worker played by Kerrie Hayes in The Mill, was a real person who wrote a memoir of her time at Quarry Bank. When the TV drama showed Kerrie being locked in a room as a punishment, the scene was shot in the very same room where Esther herself was incarcerated.
• Quarry Bank Mill, The Apprentice House, the Gregs’ home and garden remain much as they were in the days depicted in The Mill. The estate and its archives were given to the National Trust in 1939.