By Sarah Creagh
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The Mill – apprentices hit back at Cheshire’s cruel cotton boss

This article is over 8 years, 9 months old
Issue 2364

Today Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire is a National Trust property open to visitors. 

But in 1833 it was at the centre of a massive expansion of industry—and the resulting massive social upheaval.

Channel 4’s new four-part drama The Mill depicts the long hours and dangerous conditions enforced on children as young as nine. They were sold from the workhouse to the Greg family who owned the mill.

They remained the mill owners’ property until they reached adulthood.

If these apprentices managed to avoid being killed by heavy machinery they still ran the risk of losing fingers or limbs and the advances of the sleazy overseer.

But a growing movement was demanding health and safety legislation, shorter working days and trade union rights.

The Gregs naturally opposed all these reforms. They also owned a slave plantation in the Caribbean, and felt they had a right to treat workers how they chose.

The Mill is based on real events and a mixture of historical and fictional characters. The first episode sets up a struggle between the mill owners, the workers and the reformers. 

The acting isn’t bad, with familiar faces from other TV dramas and a few strong characters led by rebellious apprentice Esther Price.

Her real life story ended with her death aged just 41 while still an employee of the mill.

It looks like The Mill will give credit for changing things to great individuals, not mass action or social development. But it is possible we will also see the potential strength of workers fighting back.

The Mill, Sundays at 8pm, Channel 4 and online at 4oD

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