History of the Apprentice House
The Apprentice House had been built by 1790 by Samuel Greg to house the pauper and orphaned children who came to work at Quarry Bank Mill.
It was designed to house 90 children, who were cared for by a series of husband and wife superintendents.
The Apprentice House has a rich history of runaways, accidents and punishments, as well as success stories and the reputation of providing a greater standard of care for its young charges than other mills of the time.
In 1847, with increasingly restrictive factory legislation and the rising costs of maintaining a child workforce, the apprentice system at Quarry Bank came to an end.
Once the apprentices had passed a medical examination 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. Most couldn’t read or write so signed their name as an ‘X’.
There a few cases of runaways, most notably Joseph Sefton and Thomas Priestly whose court testimony reveals what life was like at the Apprentice House. Neither boy had any complaints about their treatment, they merely missed their families. Esther Price was another famous runaway, who did in fact return to the Apprentice House ten days after she ran away.
The children were cared for by Doctor Peter Holland, previously the Greg’s family doctor and uncle to the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, who prescribed the children poultices, pills, laxatives and leeches. Healthy workers meant more productive workers!
The children received a basic education in writing and maths, with the boys progressing further than the girls, who were expected to learn housekeeping skills such as sewing. The boys and the girls were separated for their lessons, which occurred three nights a week. The Gregs gave prizes to the apprentices for their achievements.
When they were naughty the usual punishment was to work overtime, or, in the case of girls, have their hair cropped short. For more serious offences, such as running away, the apprentices were locked in a room for a few days at a time with only porridge to eat and no bread, as in the case of Esther Price.
Whilst the children were not paid, they could do overtime for which they earnt 1 penny per hour. Since they would be fined (rather than whipped or beaten) if they made a mistake, they had to earn money somehow. What they did earn was kept for them by the mill so they could earn a pot of money when they finished as apprentices to start their adult life.
Beyond the apprentices...
When the apprentice system ceased in 1847, the Apprentice House was split into three parts. It was then used as a laundry, as accommodation for the Mill Manager, and as further accommodation for a variety of people from members of the Greg family to various workers around the estate.
Esther continued to work at Quarry Bank Mill when she became an adult, living in Styal Village with her children and husband.
The Mill on Channel 4
The lives of the apprentices formed a crucial storyline in Channel 4's drama series 'The Mill'.
Series 2 has been commissioned and is set to air in the summer of 2014.