Apprentices vs workers

Now that the cataloguing volunteers have worked their way through the vast amount of Greg letters, they have shifted their focus towards documents relating to the business. One such document was written by Robert Hyde Greg titled “List of apprentices and their value as compared with other workers”, dated December 1837.

List of the value of apprentices
List of the value of apprentices

As the title suggests, Robert had listed the names of all the apprentices working in the Mill and how much they earned per week. Robert listed which room they worked in and what their job was. The wage was proportionate to the apprentices’ age and experience; a ‘learner’ could have earned as little as 1 shilling and five pence, whilst a more experienced spinner could earn as much as 7 shillings and thruppence.

Two such experienced spinners you all know quite well now; Esther Price and Lucy Garner, who were among the few apprentices deemed good enough to earn 7s ans 3d per week, (or approximately £15.99 in today’s money) Robert noted in the document how many machines each apprentice was operating; Esther and Lucy were operating “4 sides” or 4 machines, whilst Learners were only able to operate 1 or 2, hence their lower wage.

Esther's name is the third on the list
Esther’s name is the third on the list

What I found interesting about this document is that there are no boys’ names to be found, and at the end of the document Robert calculates the “average wage per hand per week” for 82 girls. It seems that at the end of 1837 the Apprentice House was entirely occupied by girls, and this must have changed the dynamics of the house considerably. I would imagine that the boys’ dormitory was given over to girls too, leaving them all with much more room, instead of being crammed into the girls’ dormitory!

82 apprentices cost Robert £18, 9s, 6d per week
82 apprentices cost Robert £18, 9s, 6d per week

Robert calculated that the cost of the apprentice girls was £18, 9s and 6d per week (roughly £814 in today’s money), averaging out at 4s and 6d “per hand, per week”. When compared to the cost of the workers, Robert proved the value of having apprentices, for an adult worker in a mule room could earn up to £1 per week depending on their level of experience, whilst an overlooker or a mechanic earned £1, 2s per week. The average wage per hand per week from October 1837-February 1838 was 6s and 6 1/2 d, making the average worker 2s and 1/2d more expensive than the average apprentice (or roughly £4 in today’s money…every penny counts!).

Lucy and Esther were two of the more experienced apprentices
Lucy and Esther were two of the more experienced apprentices

As those of you who watched ‘The Mill’ will know, Robert was all about efficiency and profits when it came to running Quarry Bank. He fought against the ‘Ten Hour Bill’, which sought to limit the number of hours in the working day; sadly for him (but fortunately for the workers!), the Bill was passed in 1844. Worse for him still, in 1847 due to new legislation, the apprentice system at Quarry Bank was closed down and the Apprentice House was turned into a laundry, and accommodation for members of the Greg family and the workers.

Intriguingly, many mills across the country had been discarding the apprentice system since the mid-1820s stating it was more expensive to keep them than to pay adult mill workers, it seems strange therefore that with everything we know about Robert, he was fighting to keep a system in place that his competitors had deemed unprofitable. I think some more investigation on mine and Ally’s part is required. Looks like I’m headed back to the archives (well if I must…)

Next week you can find out what happened when our Deputy Catering Manager, Chris, ventured into the archive in search of recipes…


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