Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Believe I've Seen Hell and it's White, it's Snow White

On 7 October we headed North for the much anticipated "North Trip." Our first stop was a place called Quarry Bank Mill, a cotton mill from the late 18th Century.

Here is the exterior of the mill. I was interested to visit, especially after reading North and South and The Mill on the Floss, which both feature mills. The tour of the mill took us through the process of making fabric, both in the days before it was industrialized (like the use of a spinning wheel . . . "Rose! Don't touch anything!") and during the Industrial Revolution.

Pictures weren't allowed within the mill . . . but luckily Michael snapped a few shots, the picture above is the creation of thread.

These machines (I sadly don't remember the name) are weaving actual fabric. When the factory was a real working mill there were over 100 of these machines running at once. Because of safety regulations today they were only able to run four at a time for a short while. With four machines running the noise was incredibly loud, we had to shout to hear each other, so I can't even imagine how loud and dangerous the factory would be with 100+ machines running.

The tour of Quarry Bank Mill focused quite a bit on the good conditions of the mill. It is true that Quarry Bank Mill had better conditions, both within the mill as well as the living conditions, than other mills in the larger industrial cities, but life wasn't easy either. To me it seemed that they were trying so hard to portray the mill in a good light that they missed out on some important, but true information. In the movie version of North and South, for example, they depict what a cotton mill would have been like, noisy and filled with cotton "fluff" which the workers would breath in and out all day long and ruin their lungs, etc. The mill owners needed to run a business and the workers needed work, that's how life was. After going into a cotton mill for the first time, the main character of the work, Margaret Hale, states: "I believe I've seen hell and it's white, it's snow white." That pretty much sums up what I think the mills would have been like at the time.

I also found it intriguing that the mill also emphasized their unpaid "child apprentices." Pretty much, that's just a good name for child slaves. I had a hard time grasping why they were so proud of the fact that they had these "child apprentices" at the mill, they were children working on empty stomachs, for no money, in dangerous situations. Oh, well . . . some things in this world are just a mystery to me.

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