Apprentice life at Quarry Bank
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Between 1790 and the 1830's approximately one-third of Samuel Greg's workforce were pauper and orphan children. By 1816 they made up 36% of the workforce. They were not paid for their work but were obviously housed, clothed and fed by the Gregs. Thanks to the testimony of two runaways, Joseph Sefton and Thomas Priestly, we have a fantastic insight into the lives of the apprentices who worked at Quarry Bank Mill.
By law, children could be apprenticed from the age of seven but the Gregs preferred to take children at the age of nine or ten. Once the children had passed a medical examination by a doctor they were contractually bound to the Gregs by an indenture. On average, children completed their contract at eighteen years of age, although some girls did stay until they were twenty-one.
Thirteen hour days
Their day started early at 6am until about 7pm, with a ten minute break for breakfast at 8:30am when they were served porridge so thick they could eat it out of their hands! They were also allowed an hour for lunch. Their work was largely unskilled and varied from doffing the bobbins to moving full drums of cotton from the carding machines and replacing them with empty ones. The more dangerous jobs included that of the ‘little piecer’ whose job it was to follow the moving carriage of the spinning mule, fixing broken ends of threads and cleaning under the machine, all whilst at risk of having their head crushed by the machinery!
And the little one said...
When they returned after from work they had to complete chores, and three times a week they received a basic education. When they finally got to rest their weary heads it was in dormitories split into one girls' dormitory and a couple of boys' dormitories cosying up two to a bed. On a Sunday the children were expected to attend the local church, St Bartholomew’s in Wilmslow, walking two miles to get there in their Sunday best.
They were allowed some recreational time in between their regimented days, and there are reports of a playground with a swing and some toys for the children to play with.
Generally, the apprentices of Quarry Bank enjoyed a greater level of care than most child mill workers who had poor diets, worked longer hours, did not receive an education or decent health care and were subject to corporal punishment.