Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Quarry Bank Mill Apprentice House

We visited Quarry Bank Mill again today, but this time we went specifically for the Apprentice House tour. I know I've posted about Quarry Bank before but if you don't mind indulging me in a couple of photos again.

The weather was lovely. The sun was shining and it was warm so while we waited for the tour to start we had a stroll through the gardens.
Lots of bluebells and daffodils to be seen.
Garden ornaments hidden away in little nooks and crannies.
And the most beautiful camelia bush in full bloom.
The Apprentice house is a 10 minute walk from the mill. 
When we got there some NT volunteers were digging over the gardens that back in the day would have provided fruit and vegetables for the apprentices.Today potatoes were being planted.
We were given a fantastic tour by one of the National Trust employees. The house isn't very big considering it was home to 90 children who were looked after by a husband and wife team, known as  the superintendents. 

At any one time 60 girls and 30 boys aged between 9-18 years lived here.  The reason they had more girls was because they were considered less trouble than the boys and worked harder. 

The children woke at 5am, dressed, emptied their chamber pots, had a slice of bread and a drink of water then walked down to the mill. At 8.30am they would stop for a breakfast of porridge, thick enough to be served straight into their hand. There was no limit to what they ate and if they wanted more they were allowed to join the back of the queue for another helping. They were given one hour for lunch, (porridge again), then worked until 7pm when they would walk back to the house for supper and lessons.

They didn't get paid for working in the mill, (bed and board and education was deemed enough for them), but at the end of the day if they wanted to they could work overtime for 1p per hour. After already being up for 14 hours not many opted to stay on.

This is the schoolroom/communal room. Three times a week they had lessons in here. Girls and boys were educated separately and after learning basic maths the girls didn't have to continue to learn the subject as it was thought it would give them headaches and make them faint.

The Greggs didn't beat the children but any misdemeanours were punishable by fines. For stealing an apple from the orchard the fine was 2 shillings and for running away the fine was 5 shillings. As the children didn't earn a wage the only way of working off the fine was to do the overtime. At 1p per hour it would take 12 hours of extra work for stealing an apple - if you got caught!

They worked 6 days a week with Sunday off, but on this day they had to attend church which was 2 miles away. They went in the morning and again in the afternoon. So 8 miles of walking on their day off. 

Upstairs there were 4 dormitories. One for all 60 girls and three that housed 10 boys each. They slept 2 to a bed, considered a luxury compared to some living quarters, and the straw in the mattresses was changed once a year. Under the beds were chamber pots and it was one pot to 10 people. Lavender was hung up and scattered on the floor to mask the odours. There wasn't as much room as the photo suggests. The NT have taken half the beds out so people on the tours can get in, so the rooms would have been really cramped.
And here is their supply of toilet paper.
Back downstairs and into the kitchen where porridge featured on the menu quite a lot although for a bit of variation fruit and vegetables from the garden were mixed in. Two or three times a week they had meat and potatoes and occasionally there was bacon which was a real treat.
Although pretty dire and grim, this mill was owned by the forward thinking Gregg family who had the interests of the children at heart, making sure they had regular meals, a doctor on hand to sort out any ailments and a schoolroom for education.

At the end of the day though it all boiled down to labour and production. Workhouse children cost nothing in wages and were looked after because "healthier children meant better productivity". Still, the only winners were the people at the top who owned the mills. 

Which is probably still the case these days.



  1. last line of your post .. spot on.

    Everything is so beautiful there, and your post is full of fascinating information, but I feel so sad for the children. I know we go on about how 'kids don't know they're born' blah blah blah, and it's true quite often, but it makes me sad that kids of the past lived not knowing how to just be kids and have time off when ill, or enough food to make them happily full. Oh it does break my heart.

    I am grateful to have the life I have, and for Violet to have the life she has.

    Thank you. For this slice of the past and for making me appreciate my life more than I did already! xxx

    1. It is beautiful but I always think about the hardships that were endured in such pretty surroundings by children no older than Violet and Thomas. It does bring home how lucky we all are these days and how helpless parents must have felt not being able to look after their children, giving them up to workhouses or mills.

      The other thing that always makes me feel a bit sad is that this is one of the better mills. I think the owners really did try to give the children a decent life compared to most mill owners back then, but even so, it would have been a grim existence.

      I love social history and anything that involves how people used to live really interests me. Glad you enjoyed reading about it. xx

  2. Thank you for sharing your tour with us. Loved the pictures and reading about the lives of the children who lived and worked there. Unfortunately, that sort of life still continues in some parts of the world, even today.

    1. Glad you enjoyed reading about it Bless. Yes, it's hard to believe in this day and age isn't that that these sort of conditions still exist. We've come so far in so many things, yet we still can't get the basics right. It's a very sad state of affairs. xx

  3. Love this type of post Suzanne. The thoughts of people back then, that girls might get headaches from further learning!!
    I could not have been a workhouse child. Ten people to a chamber pot?!!! That's a lot of grim sloshing in a morning!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Rachel. Yes, the general consensus was girls weren't worth educating at all so the fact they got some lessons was quite unusual. Instead of maths they had sewing lessons. Another well thought out plan because it meant they could mend all the clothes - for free obviously.

      I always think from a girl point of view about their monthly visit as well and how they coped although nobody ever talks about that side of things. Grim is certainly an appropriate word for it. xx

  4. What an interesting and informative place to visit. There were a few industrialists in this town who were similarly philanthropic (well, for those days), establishing a Winter Garden and opening up their own gardens, and later handing over the house, for the benefit of workers and their families. And I remember when I started my career in social work, we had study days in the building that had been the workhouse. Nothing left of any of those buildings, sadly. We're demolition mad here.

    1. Funny you should mention the workhouse, because we both said yesterday one of those would be really interesting to visit, but we've no idea if any exist. I'm going to have a look later on to see. Maybe there are some that have been converted into flats or offices but I can't say I've ever heard of any that are still left as they were. They probably held such bad memories, people were glad to knock them down. xx