The Archives+ team is really looking forward to watching The Mill, a four-part historical drama which starts at 8pm tonight on Channel 4. The Mill is set at Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, Cheshire, in 1833.

Quarry Bank Mill, 1890

Quarry Bank Mill was founded in 1784 by a young textile merchant, Samuel Greg, and was one of the first generation of water-powered cotton spinning mills. The mill is now run as a living history centre by the National Trust.

The drama focuses on the turbulent story of Esther Price, one of around 900 children known to have been apprenticed at Quarry Bank Mill between 1785 and 1847. Quarry Bank Mill was notable for its use of unpaid child apprentices, often recruited from workhouses.

Physician's prescription book, 3 May 1831

When Esther was first examined by the mill physician in 1831 (click link to zoom) she was considered too ‘delicate’ to begin working as an apprentice. Esther was noted to be 9 years old, but later this was fact was challenged.

Two years later Esther, apparently aged 12, was re-examined. This time she was considered strong enough to be formally apprenticed to Samuel and Robert Hyde Greg on 14 November 1833.

GB127.C5/5/3/54 (page 1), 14 Nov 1833

Esther’s apprenticeship indenture (click link to zoom) states that while learning the “Art and Mystery” of cotton spinning she was to receive no wages but “competent and sufficient Meat, Drink, and Apparel, Lodging, Washing and all other Things necessary and fit for an Apprentice”.

But Esther was no ordinary apprentice…

Tune in the The Mill and follow @themillspeaks to learn more.