Children of The Mill by David Hanson

To accompany the second series of The Mill, a book has been released which explores the lives of the apprentices at Quarry Bank, from the beginnings of the apprentice system in the 1790s, to its end in 1847. The book is called Children of The Mill, by David Hanson. Back in July we held a book launch at Quarry Bank, and David spent a sunny afternoon signing hundreds of books for eager visitors, from the comfort of the Mill Manager’s Office. I caught up with David during a lull in signings to find out the story behind the book.

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David happily signs copies of his brand new book (Courtesy of Nick King)

David’s first connection with Quarry Bank Mill was forged in the summer of 2012 when he was hired by Darlow Smithson Productions and Channel 4 to go on a fact-finding expedition – his mission was to find out whether there would be enough interesting stories in the archives to pull together to create a new drama series – The Mill. The answer was a resounding yes.

One of the first stories that David came across was that of Esther Price. Her experiences had been used as part of the Apprentice House tour for many years, and David could see that the tale of a feisty runaway apprentice girl, determined to get the truth about her age and stand up to her masters, was ready-made for TV. David described Esther as “a real leading light…a real firebrand“, a description I’m sure we can all agree with having encountered both the factual and the fictional Esther.

Esther Price is played by Kerrie Hayes in The Mill (Channel 4 Picture Library/Ryan McNamara)
Esther Price is played by Kerrie Hayes in The Mill (Channel 4 Picture Library/Ryan McNamara)

Another of David’s favourite stories from the archive, were those of the Baker brothers – Job and George, and their mysterious sister Mary-Ann. Job had previously been a very well-behaved apprentice, but one day he ran away entirely out of the blue and out of character – previously he had been used in official reports as an example of  a model apprentice, and that mill work was “not so bad“, as David put it. His younger brother George had proved himself a trouble maker, breaking window after window. In the book “behind the sparse facts of the Mill Memorandum… you can fill their stories in”.

Around the time of Christmas 2013, Emily Dalton, the Executive Producer and co -creator of The Mill, approached David with a new project – would he like to write the book that would accompany Series 2? Again the answer was a resounding yes.

Straight after Christmas, David was here, delving into the archive with Ally, once again mining for those remarkable stories. Fortunately for David we were more than able to provide him with an entire book’s worth. A particular favourite resource of David’s was our collection of oral histories; “you can hear their voices, you don’t have to imagine how they speak”.

David had several aims for the book, and one was to repair the reputation of Charlie Crout, who in Series 1 of The Mill is seen to prey on the young girls he is in charge of, namely Miriam Catterall. In reality there was no evidence to suggest Charlie Crout did anything of this nature, and David found the historical Charlie to be a romantic figure. When he was in his 20s, Charlie married a 48-year-old, childless, widow – clearly he had married for love, and didn’t care for social convention or the expectation that he should settle down with someone of his own age and start a family. After she died, Charlie re-married and did have two daughters. He lived not two doors from the Howletts and Esther Price.

David was very grateful for the time and effort of the volunteers and staff (aka Ally) of the archive; “the stories would have been inaccessible if not for the volunteers“. In particular, he was helped by Keith, Ann and Philip – volunteers who have dedicated years to researching specific areas of Quarry Bank’s history; they also acted as a great sounding board for his writing.

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David with Keith Plant, one of our archive volunteers who helped David with his research (courtesy of Nick King)

When we were chatting I was astonished to learn that David managed to write the 80,000 word book in less than two months. To ensure he met his deadline on time, David worked to a strict schedule, with his background as a TV producer, he found his deadline fairly reasonable “nothing like the deadlines of TV!” David was “determined not to make it dry and historical“, and so he ended up putting himself in the story, taking the reader on a journey of his research. David wanted to make sure that his readers knew that the “author has experienced what they’re talking about. I’ve been round the place so many times – I know what the different rooms in the Apprentice House smell like!”

The result was his debut book; Children of The Mill, which will not only satisfy fans of the showbut also provides a unique exploration of the life of an apprentice at Quarry Bank Mill (rivalled only by an Apprentice House tour…).

You can still pick up a signed copy of the book in our shop, and can order by calling 01625 445 835.

I’m sure if we run out, David will be only too happy to come and sign some more, if only for the sake of being able to take up residence in the Master’s chair in the Mill Manager’s Office once more…

Laura

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