Children Working in Mills

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story I had to write in class about children working in mills.

Submitted: June 23, 2016

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Submitted: June 23, 2016

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About a week ago, on New Year's Day of 1820, a tall man came up to me. He had toffee hair and stern eyes as well as a beard. He wore a scruffy hat and a mascot, along with old baggy beige clothes. I had seen him a few times, crossing the corner of Kensington Square where I had sat in the cold, praying for a pence or a shilling on the days I felt lucky. He had been observing me for the past week, but I didn't think much of it. My parents had died in a fire two months ago due to my father’s pipe being left on during the night. I was put in an orphanage as no one wanted me. However I did not want them either so after one week I discreetly crept out of my window in the orphanage and out into the night. Grief and sorrow was still clouding my mind, so I aimlessly walked around London until my pocket money ran out and I was forced to become a good-for-nothing beggar. The man had stood in front of me for a moment, like he was analyzing me. Finally he spoke:

"Good afternoon young man, my name is John Bank.”

“Good afternoon sir.”

“What is your name?”

“James sir.”

“I am here to offer you a job, James.”

A job? I was beginning to feel happy but doubt held me back from immediately agreeing. My father had been a businessman and had taught me to first know fully what I was getting myself into before ignorantly agreeing.

“Of what kind sir?”

“Working for me, in a mill near Nottingham as a pauper apprentice. You will live in an apprentice house and we will give you delicious food and you will receive money.”

“As gladly as I would do it sir I do not know how to weave or spin cotton.”

“Weave? No, no you shall be a scavenger. It is quite easy of a task I assure you.”

“What does it consists of doing?”

“Simply cleaning up the dust and oil. Normally you would be old enough to become a piercer but I believe that due to your height, a few months as a scavenger would do good.”

“Then I accept your offer sir.”

“Very well, we will leave now to Nottingham and arrive in a few hours.”

I was not the only one who had become recruited, which I thought of it as hardly surprising. Other children around the same age as me were also heading to the cotton mill in Nottingham. We were on a covered cart that would stop sometimes on our way and it would carry on with its route but not without another new child aboard. We were all talking about how lucky we were and how this was an opportunity, but our hopes plummeted in the hour we had arrived. The new employees, including me, were gathered together and our names were called out from a piece of a paper. As it turned out, the apprentice house was not as I had expected. The house itself was entirely made out of red bricks with few high windows and a single door which I found out was always locked so that no one could get out during the night. The boys and girls would be separated into different rooms with each housing several pauper apprentices although the girls' rooms were bigger. The rooms themselves were not very spacious and the beds were uncomfortable with rough, noisy mattresses where lay a thin blanket. In addition, two apprentices had to share a bed. I was against the idea like many other people, but the last thing we wanted to do is anger the adults, so we kept quiet. We then visited the factory. Compared to the winter cold outside, the mill was not only hot and humid but the air was heavy and asphyxiated with cotton dust. There were employees working: some were adults but most were children. The women were weaving while the men would oversee them, making sure they would not break any rules or fall asleep. The machines were making so much deafening noises that people had to shout over it to be able to communicate. Due to the fact that we had arrived much later than intended as said by Mr. Banks, he told us that we would eat dinner, sleep and immediately start working tomorrow. He also said that we would be working from five o'clock in the morning to ten o'clock at night everyday and on Sundays we would need to clean the factory. Since I had no experience with this, I was worried and concerned if I would be able to hold up for seventeen hours but Mr. Banks assured me there would be breaks. We then had dinner, which I was highly disappointed about. The factory owner’s so called “delicious food” was in fact Derbyshire oat which tasted horrible, but since I had not had a dinner in a very long time, I forced myself to swallow, but the taste of it lasted in my mouth for over half an hour. We then had to quickly change into old nightclothes and get into bed with a stranger of our age of whom we did not know, but our governor had chosen each new child to sleep with one that was here for some time. Already exhausted from traveling, I fell asleep fast with the lingering smell of oil and grease of the person next to me who was so tired he had not even bothered to undress. I drifted off into a dreamless sleep, anxious about what tomorrow held. We were now the property of John Banks.

The next day, we were woken up by our strict governor, raising his voice at us. Like Mr. Banks had said, it was five o'clock in the morning but the excitement and anxiousness gave me energy. We had no time for breakfast and went straight to work. However, before the day fully started, Mr. Banks told us to be careful with the machines, telling us a past event that occurred where a girl's apron had become stuck in a machine and because no one had stopped the machine, she had gotten swallowed up and died while everyone was watching in horror. We started whispering between each other, debating if it had really happened or not, but it was enough to put us on edge. Like Mr. Banks had previously told me, I had a job as a scavenger and I was spending every second on the floor, picking up dust and cleaning the oil. I was constantly scared of getting caught up by the machines that looked dangerous when I was too close to them for my comfort. Even though it was only the first day, there were already stories going around about all the noise. Not only about the girl that died. Apparently, earlier this morning, another girl had tried escaping from the apprentice house but an adult had caught her and cut her hair. Although my imagination had made up what she may look like, I could not help but stare when I saw a girl, slightly older than me, passing by with uneven hair, some parts much shorter than other parts. I could not help but feel sympathy for the hard time she must have gotten, not only from the adults but also from all the looks she was getting. For the whole day, she held her head down while she was working silently, sniffing ever so often. We had breakfast at around nine which was made up of soggy porridge and milk, where all of us were looking at each other, wondering who would try it first and notify the others if it was edible enough. In the end, it was I who tried it first but I ended coughing and urgently drinking my milk to force the food down. Nevertheless, we all knew we would not be eating for an extended amount of time and so we tried to eat as much as our stomach could take.  After that, we went back to work where we were not allowed to sit down. Unfortunately I had found that out the hard way: after several hours of working, I had gotten so tired, my back was aching badly and the noise had given me a migraine that I had tried to discreetly sit down in an area that I had thought was not being watched but I was wrong. An overseer saw me and picked me up to carry me in the corner of the room where there was a bucket of water. Although I was trying to break free, he was visibly stronger and took my feet so I was hanging upside down, feeling the blood gushing to my head. Suddenly, I felt cold water covering my head for several seconds. Then, he put me down and looked at me with a straight and unsettling face, making me shake slightly.

"Do not do that again or the next punishment will be worse."

I stood there looking down at the floor.

"Answer me when I speak!" he sternly said while pulling my hair up so I would look at him.

"Yes sir, sorry sir."

I was so afraid that I had enough adrenaline to last until dinner at eight o'clock at night where we were also not allowed to take a break and sit down. The dinner was again Derbyshire oat and milk which I just wanted it to be over quickly. After another few hours of working we were finally allowed to stop and go back to the apprentice's house where I had just enough time to change before falling into my half of the bed and a few thoughts of how I was going to survive all those years before falling into a deep but agitated sleep.

It was not until 1833 that changes were made. I was an adult by then and due to harsh working conditions, I had become deformed in some places and my current job was an overseer, where the more I made the employees work the higher my wage, although I tried not to overwork them, knowing how hard it was from experience. I was relieved to see that the children and young teenagers were treated with more respect and consideration. The Parliament of the United Kingdom had finally taken action to help. I didn't see any children under the age of nine in the factories and they needed an age certificate for verification. Factory inspectors were appointed to make sure the laws were followed. In addition, children in between the age of nine to thirteen could not work more than nine hours a day and children between the age of thirteen to eighteen could not work for more than twelve hours a day. Furthermore, all children could not work at night and had to get two hours of education each day. Although it did take a while for all the laws to be fully followed by every factory, a change was still made and it impacted the life of many children, men and women who felt glee at pieces of freedom they had gained.


© Copyright 2017 Lacey Klair. All rights reserved.

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