The Gregs, unlike other mill owners, operated only on one shift. It was a long one, however: thirteen hours a day before 1847. In summer, when the river was too low for a full day’s production, hours were shorter. The time had to be made up with longer hours in the winter. Although working days were very long, the Greg’s did provide many other facilities for their employees, therefore, it could have been viewed as a fair system. Thirteen hours a day may have been more acceptable for a child to work during the time, than it would have been today.
Although wages in Manchester were higher than, or at least comparable to those paid in Styal, the Styal workforce was better off because in an agricultural area, fresh food was cheaper, and also the cottage allotments enabled families to grow some of their own food. As well as this, in the 1820’s a shop was opened in the village. It stocked the staple foods of factory workers all over England: flour, meat, potatoes, and bacon. Household goods, clothing and millinery were also sold.
This was another facility offered to workers at Styal, food prices were also cheaper, a shilling spent on fresh food in Styal would likely have bought more, than a shilling spent in an urban area, such as Manchester. Following on, from reading the modern account of Esther Price, who worked at Styal in the 1830’s, we do gain an insight into how employees’ were punished at Styal Mill. After reading the account, we instantly feel sorry for Esther, having been put in solitary confinement on her own, not being able to speak to others, and having to sleep on the floor.
Although this may seem cruel to us, the workers of Styal were treated extremely well compared to the workers in other mills. Instead of harsh beatings, which often resulted in death or severe injuries, workers were fined or locked in solitary confinement for crimes such as lateness, swearing, being unwashed or disorderly. Something, which the Gregs did not use at Styal, was corporal punishment. Therefore, we must compare the punishments given in Styal to the violent and much horrific punishments that were given at other mills, such as Cressbrook Mill.
Another source, which reflects negativity towards child labour, is Source G, which is a drawing showing poor apprentices feeding at a pigs trough, from ‘The Life of Robert Blincoe’ in 1833. Although this source may be true, it is important to remember that apprentices in general were not treated as well in other mills, as they were in Styal Mill. There has been evidence that at mills such as Cressbrook Mill, apprentices were treated in a horrific manner, not being fed and constantly being beaten. Styal Mill was completely different to this and instead respected and showed interest in its workers.
Unlike the message, which this drawing is putting across, Samuel Greg fed his apprentices very well during their time at Styal. This would seem to be another factor that shows his concern towards his apprentices. We can also acknowledge this from Source B, when Joseph Sefton states that on Sunday they had boiled pork, potatoes, peas, turnips and cabbages, and that they always had as much as they could to eat. Samuel Greg provided a good range of healthy meals for all of his apprentices, which could also be seen as a sensible business move.
Moreover, we also gain more negative information, in relation to child labour, from Source H. The Source has been taken from a novel in 1840, attacking the treatment of children in factories. Again, many apprentices were treated harshly, however, the treatment of the apprentices in Styal, was drastically better than that from other mills. However, as the source implies, accidents and health risks were obtainable from working at Styal Mill. Apprentices were often injured because their work involved going under machines; therefore, the loss of fingers was common.
However, accidents were an accepted part of industrial life. They did not occur on a regular basis, as we can also gather from Source C. When asked ‘Are any of the children deformed’, George and Elizabeth Shawcross reply ‘I don’t know that we have ever had one’, thus telling us that accidents were rare. The machinery at Styal was also fenced off, before this was made compulsory, leaving us with the impression that Styal tried to avoid accidents as best as they could. The hazards of working in a cotton mill gradually became apparent to the medical profession.
There were a few common occupational health risks, such as eye inflammation, from the use of tallow and Argand lamps. Accidents did occur in Styal, like they occurred in many other mills and town factories around the country. However, with a doctor being employed at Styal Mill, the majority of accidents could probably be dealt with efficiently. During this time, religion was at the centre of peoples’ lives. It was natural for the Gregs to take an interest in the spiritual welfare of their workforce.
The apprentice children went to Wilmslow church twice on Sundays, as required by the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act Of 1802. Samuel Greg also built a chapel in Styal in 1822 for his employees; a Methodist Society was also formed in the 1830’s. As Source I also indicates, Styal Mill was a clean and safe environment, and overall it seems more likely that Samuel Greg had a genuine concern for his apprentices, than for his overall earnings as a mill owner, despite there being several possibilities that say otherwise.
Most of the negative sides to his treatment of the apprentices were supposition, and therefore can be discounted as evidence against Greg. In conclusion, I think the work Greg did for the apprentices at Styal, overweighs these minor factors, such as the education provided, the good healthcare, the houses provided, the chapel and the shop, which were built for the apprentices. So despite any ulterior motives he had for treating his apprentices so well, it is proven that they did lead good lives for young mill workers.