When looking at whether apprentices at Styal mill were treated badly we must look at certain factors at the time such as lodging, education, health, punishment and food. Styal mill was a rural mill and in general rural mills had better conditions than urban mills such as Manchester and London. The Greg family also had a good reputation in the industry and therefore it would be presumed that conditions would be better. However were the Greg’s really doing it from the kindness of their hearts or were they business inclined from the beginning?
The Greg family employed a learned doctor, who was experienced and qualified, he was also the Greg’s family doctor. Dr Holland was paid £20 per annum by the Greg’s to care for the ailing children of the mill. Around the country, especially in the north very few mills employed a doctor meaning this was unusual to receive any treatment at all when working in a mill. Dr Holland was very advanced for the time and his treatments were all modern techniques, although to our modern sensibilities the illness sometimes sounds more preferable to the treatment. For example one young patient James Worden had fever, the treatment was a teaspoon of Julep every morning and other remedies were leeches and laxatives (brimstone and treacle.) Although these treatments seem primitive they were the best you could get from a mill at the time. In my opinion the Greg’s were intelligent and they realised that a doctor although it would cost could be profitable for the mill as if the children are all well and healthy more hours could be done. Therefore a larger profit margin for themselves, the mortality rate of Styal mill employees was 7 per 1000 in the urban Manchester was 33 per 1000.
The health and morals of apprentices’ act of 1802 stated that all mill owners must educate their apprentices. The law did not say what subjects and who by etc. Greg employed trained teachers to educate his apprentices. Joseph Sefton told magistrates in 1806 that school was attended around once per week and at around 8 apprentices per time. Reading and writing was taught to all boys but not all girls had this skill, they were taught sewing for most of the time. In my opinion Samuel Greg again saw the personal advantage when he decided to correctly educate the children (proper tutors etc.) as if educated properly some of the children there could have grown up to undertake a better job at the mill. An example of this is Henshaw who was educated and grew up to become mill manager. Also the behaviour of the children at the mill was very important and misbehaviour could cost the mill (such as stealing) the belief at the time was that education would make the apprentices at the mill behave better. This again this would be a personal gain to the business minded Samuel Greg.
At Styal, the Greg’s completely banned the use of corporal punishment in their mill although this does not mean that it never happened but in accounts from the mill there is no mention of it happening unlike records from other mills. A young apprentice called Robert Blincoe spoke about corporal punishment in Litton Mill Derbyshire. He spoke of apprentices being knocked down and beaten with clenched fists. He told a factory commission in 1833 that he had weights hung to his ears and then beaten by a whip without a shirt on.
There are no such records from Styal mill, although some of this type of punishment may have gone on. The information about corporal punishment may have been exaggerated by 19th century writers to improve conditions for the apprentices. In 1834 MP’s asked Samuel Greg questions about the conditions for his apprentices. When asked if they were hit he said never beyond a clip around the ear and that corporal punishment was never inflicted. When discussing whether conditions were bad for apprentices in Styal mill we can see that as for punishment it was much less severe than the treatments given out by other mills such as Litton Mill in Derbyshire. Although if apprentices stepped out of line then punishment would be issued for example Margaret Badding ran away from Styal mill, Upon returning after 10 day she was given solitary confinement.
From records lodging at Styal mill was considerably better than other mills around England. Joseph Sefton comments that the children lodged in the apprentice house and that they were under the care of Richard Sims and his wife. He says that their beds were good and that they slept two to a bed and that they had clean sheets every month. Thomas Priestly also has nothing but good to say about the lodging at Styal saying that clean sheets were provided often and that the floors and the rooms was very clean, he also says that the walls were whitewashed every year.
These records contrast with records from other mills such as an account from Backbarrow mill where a young apprentice comments that bedding was very bad and they only had a blanket for warmth. Again this could be another ‘strategy’ from Samuel Greg. The children comment that they got fresh shirts and new clothes on Sundays. Sunday was the day that the apprentices went to church with the Greg’s. The community and people who lived there would see the apprentices. If they look good then Greg’s reputation will be improved. This is another case of conditions being better a Styal mill than other English mills such as Backbarrow mill.
Another factor when studying the conditions is the diets of the apprentices. The diet was a basic one in comparison with a western diet today as it was low in protein and lacked much variety but for the time the meals they received were nutritious and abundant in amount. Joseph Sefton and Thomas Priestly both comment to magistrates on meals received, they talk about bacon, cabbage, milk and bread all being used in their meals. They say that they were only allowed water to drink, but tea when they were ill. They say that they were always allowed as much as they wanted (mainly of porridge). In comparison to this varied meal (at the time) a worker in a mill in Manchester describes the staple diet as being potatoes and wheaten bread saying that milk was little used. In comparison to this the Styal mill apprentices had a good diet. Samuel Greg, in my opinion, again realised that with people this young working 12 hours a day would obviously work better if they had a full stomach and therefore would have a better profit margin.
In conclusion the conditions at Quarry bank mill (styal mill) in rural Cheshire appear to be better than the average conditions in a 19th century mill. The reasons or this in my opinion is the business-like mind of Samuel Greg who realised that improved conditions would result in more profit for himself and his family. If this is the case, what is the reason that throughout the life of Styal mill there were over 500 runaways? The answer is the sheer monotony of working in a mill day in day out for 12 hours a day constantly would have driven some youngsters to runaway. Probably the largest indicator that conditions were good at the time for apprentices is that many stayed on after they were 18, and continued working for Samuel Greg as the food, care and overtime money was all appealing.