The fact that inspired the fiction…

For the past couple of posts I’ve been talking about The Mill on Channel 4 and how the archive material here at Quarry Bank was the fact that inspired the series. This week I decided to take a trip to the archive to see Ally, our Collection and Archive Officer, to find out exactly what resources were used to research the characters and stories on the show.

Quarry Bank Mill was set dressed so it appeared as it did in the 1830s
Quarry Bank Mill was set dressed so it appeared as it did in the 1830s

One of our most useful sources of information that we have here at Quarry Bank is the Mill Memorandum, which comes in two volumes and is a compilation of the information taken from the Day Books. The first from 1784-1911, and the second from 1911-1925. The Memorandum was compiled largely by John Hewitt, one of Quarry Bank’s Mill Managers, and documents all the important events that happened at Quarry Bank.

A page from the Mill Memorandum describing the apprentice system at Quarry Bank
A page from the Mill Memorandum describing the apprentice system at Quarry Bank

The Memorandum includes accidents, the two fatalities, the development of the buildings, deaths in the Greg family, the overlookers and managers, the introduction of new machinery to the Mill as well as records of the water wheels and steam engines. A lot of what we know about the Apprentice system at Quarry Bank comes from the Memorandum.

The Rent Book is another extremely useful resource when it comes to piecing together what life was like in Styal Village. It is essentially a census of Styal between 1844 and 1853, which recorded who lived in which cottage in the village, how much they earned and their occupation at the Mill. We have learned from the Rent Books some really interesting information about life in Styal Village. For instance, the cellars in the cottages were used for all kinds of purposes, from stone storage, to singles accommodation, to preaching halls.

A page from the Rent Book
A page from the Rent Book

We also have several oral history recordings from people who used to work in the Mill in the 1920s and 1930s, giving us a clear insight into what kinds of conditions people had to work in at Quarry Bank, albeit a hundred years after the TV show is set. Channel 4 used these recordings to build up an idea of the noise, the health effects, the machine layouts and other details including what is was like to work barefoot in the Mill.

Hannah Greg in later life
Hannah Greg in later life

The archive is the home of many documents relating to the Greg Family, including Hannah’s diary from 1786-1790 and the Greg Letter Book, which contains letters to and from the Gregs from the 1600s to the late 1800s. Hannah’s diary records that she attended several lectures by a Mr Yates, including one on slavery.

Hannah describes going to Mr Yates' lecture on African slavery
Hannah describes attending Mr Yates’ lecture on African slavery

The political interests of Robert Hyde Greg were researched with the help of Manchester Archives, who hold the 1830s factory inspection of England documentation. We have a copy of Robert’s response to the investigation into the Ten Hour Bill; “The Factory Question”. Robert summarises the paternalistic approach that he believed that all factory owners should show towards their child workers, and the approach the Gregs did in fact take:

“When there is no natural guardian…the law transfers to a master the privileges of a parent, amongst which is a command of the services of the child, it most properly imposes upon him also the duties of a parent, the providing the food, clothing  and education of the child…and…the duty of humanity and kind treatment.”

Robert Hyde Greg
Robert Hyde Greg

Manchester Archives hold a lot of interesting material relating to the apprentices at Quarry Bank, including the testimony of runaways Joseph Sefton and Thomas Priestley, from which we have learned a great deal about the treatment and routines of the apprentices. Thomas sadly lost his finger in a machinery accident:

I was attended by the surgeon of the factory Dr. Holland and in about 6 weeks I recovered. I have no reason to complain of the wage I received during this time, that I was at the factory, nor do I know  that the other apprentices who were I believe about 90 had, Richard Bamford who is the master of the works was very good to me and to the rest of us”

Thomas’ testimony ends with him stating “I had no reason to be dissatisfied with my situation but during my illness I thought of my mother and wanted to see her.”


Lucy and Esther, portrayed by Katherine Morley and Kerrie Hayes
Lucy and Esther, portrayed by Katherine Morley and Kerrie Hayes

Manchester Archives also hold Esther Price’s birth certificate and indenture along with her testimony and Robert’s account of her and Lucy Garner’s running away. Robert’s account relates Esther’s assault on a fellow apprentice for which she was sent before the Magistrates. There were a couple more incidents of misbehaviour after which Robert announced that the old punishment of cutting off their hair would be applied to runaways.

Esther's birth certificate
Esther’s baptism certificate

Esther and Lucy ran away at the end of August 1836 but returned several days later:

“They said to some of their companions that they did not care what was done with them, as long as their hair was not cut off”

Lucy's indenture
Esther’s indenture

Robert ordered that they be placed into solitary confinement instead; Lucy for three days as she returned earlier than Esther who was sentenced to one week. Robert recounted Esther’s time in confinement as follows:

Account of the Circumstances Connected with the Punishment of Esther Price, 1843
Account of the Circumstances Connected with the Punishment of Esther Price, 1843

“The windows were boarded, partly to prevent her escape and partly to prevent communication without. The room was partially dark. Her food milk and porridge and bread, morning an evening same as the other girls, but no dinner. She was put in on Monday or Tuesday night (that of her return); on Friday, after all the girls were in bed, Mrs Timperley died of apoplexy.  On the following day, Esther Price feeling alarmed at being by herself, in the same house as the dead body begged to come out, promising to complete her terms of imprisonment afterwards. She was thereupon let out and never put in again.”

Esther's indenture
Lucy’s indenture

Manchester Archives also hold the Stoppage Ledger which recorded all the overtime the apprentices did as punishment for misbehaviour, including Esther and Lucy. Esther was fined 12 shillings and 11 pence for running away. Lucy was fined 9 shillings and 7 pence as she returned earlier.

Make sure you keep watching The Mill, there are only 2 more episodes this series!

Follow Manchester Archives for fascinating stories about the city throughout its history as well as a couple of articles about Quarry Bank:


Images of “Account of the Circumstances Connected with the Punishment of Esther Price, 1843” and Esther and Lucy’s indentures, Esther’s birth certificate and the Stoppage Ledger are courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council.

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