By Will Barber – Taylor
Channel Four’s The Mill opened the eyes of its viewers to the realities of life for the thousands of nineteenth century children who found themselves working in England’s industrial mills.
Quarry Bank Mill and the neighbouring village of Styal, tucked away in the heart of the Cheshire countryside, offer us a microcosm of one of the most turbulent periods of English history: the Industrial Revolution. David Hanson’s engaging narrative breathes life into the old documents from Quarry Bank Mill’s rich archives and fills its rooms with real people, bringing the children, the mill and the village into sharp focus – not just those individuals who appeared as characters in the television series but the many who worked there throughout the century.
In telling these stories he reveals the human side of an industrial empire and particularly the lives of the children as they found themselves thrust into the riotous, dangerous daily grind of the mill. To modern readers, their day was unimaginably hard, yet out of this misery are tales of lives lived to the full and the triumph of the indomitable human spirit.
The Mill is one of Channel Four’s most successful and well written dramas of recent years. It manages to take a period of history that is often shown in the bonnet dramas of BBC One and ITV and show some of the real hardships felt by the people whose work helped build Industrial Britain and made sure that the British Empire was the most powerful force in the world. The series, though steeped in fact and based upon real people was of course a work of fiction. Therefore it did tend to take liberties and create characters that never existed and change history for dramatic purposes. Hence, Children of The Mill: True Stories From Quarry Bank is the perfect companion to the TV series. It delves into the true stories behind the series and makes you feel a part of the world of the apprentices who were indentured into service; the workers at the Mill and the Gregs who founded Quarry Bank Mill.
From the beginning of the book, author David Hanson paints an incredible picture of the history of The Mill. From founder Samuel Greg’s first inspiration to build the mill at Styal to Esther Price’s daring journey to Liverpool to prove her true age, Hanson weaves a deep and poignant story about the lives of those connected with Quarry Bank. Everyone who is talked about in the book feels human; from the Gregs to Daniel Bate and Lucy Garner, the events that happen to these characters gives us a real empathy with them. Of course, it is easiest to feel empathy for the apprentices because they were more or less forced to work at Quarry Bank; it was either there or the workhouse.
Hanson also makes us feel for the Gregs. While their actions to us now may seem uncaring, Hanson makes us realize that not only were they products of their time and also trying to make a living for themselves but also that they did care about the people that worked for them. Hannah Greg particularly resonates with the reader; a woman who lived in a time dominated by men who tried her best to seek a better life for not only the people she employed but also for society in general.
Children of The Mill: True Stories From Quarry Bank is a fascinating social history that looks at the hardships felt by many people during an overlooked time in history. The story that is told is gripping, inspiring and sometimes horrific in the detail it goes into with the suffering that was felt by the people who lived and worked at Quarry Bank Mill. For anyone interested in social history or for those who want to learn more about the truth behind one of Channel Four’s best series I’d highly recommend this book.
You can buy a copy of Children of The Mill on Amazon or from Headline books. With thanks to Headline.