The real Esther Price
Esther Price is one of the more well-known apprentices from Quarry Bank, and now part of her story is being brought to life by Channel 4's 'The Mill' mini-drama series. As with most historical dramas some parts of the truth are adapted to make the story seem more compelling or to fit in with story lines - and so we wanted the opportunity to tell you about the 'real' Esther Price.
Esther was born in Liverpool in 1820 to Thomas and Maria Price.. Esther entered the Liverpool Workhouse as a child but we do not know when or why. She was brought to Quarry Bank Mill as an apprentice, and signed her indenture in 1833, along with 18 other girls, after being examined by Dr Holland and declared fit to work.
We know little of Esther’s early years at Quarry Bank Mill until she was involved in a serious incident with another girl. Following the departure of Mrs Shawcross, whom had cared for the apprentices for 25 years until her husband’s death, Mr and Mrs Timperley became the new superintendents. The period of transition saw a decline in the behaviour of the apprentices and in November 1835 Esther and another girl assaulted a fellow apprentice. Their attack was so violent that Samuel Greg sent them before the Magistrates who punished them.
Samuel further announced that he intended to bring back the old punishment of shaving off the girl’s hair, should any more apprentices misbehave or attempt to run away. Despite this threat, Esther and her friend Lucy Garner ran away in August 1836. It seems that Esther ran away in order to visit her father. Whilst Lucy returned after five days, Esther disappeared for ten. They begged to keep their hair and were instead sentenced to a week of solitary confinement. Esther was kept in a room in the Apprentice House with the windows boarded up to prevent her escaping. She slept on the floor and was fed milk, porridge and bread in the morning and evening, but she received no dinner. Whilst she was in confinement, Mrs Timperley died and Esther begged to be released early so she was not alone in the house with the body.
Despite these misdemeanours, Esther was kept on after her apprenticeship ended. It's even more surprising that Esther decided to stay on as, in 1838, she had been trying to prove she was eighteen rather than sixteen (as the Mill believed) so she could leave the Apprentice House.
Esther soon met William Whittaker, and in 1839 she gave birth to an illegitimate child, William Price, who sadly died in infancy in 1840. Esther was at this time living in Styal village at 5, Oak Cottages with two other families. Esther’s relationship with William continued and she gave birth to a second child, Thomas Price, in 1843. In 1851, William and Esther finally married in St Mary’s, Stockport. They had two more sons, William in 1853 and Abraham in 1855.
During this time, Esther was still working at Quarry Bank Mill. She began in the spinning rooms, before moving to the reeling room where she earned 8 shillings a week. Esther remained at Quarry Bank Mill for the rest of her life, working in the weaving sheds from 1841. She died in 1861 and was buried at St Bartholomew’s Churchyard.