In 1790 an apprentice house was built in Styal which could house up to 100 children. By 1800 there were 90 children living in the house, 60 girls and 30 boys. This was half the work force at the mill at the time. Most of the children were aged between 10 years and 12 years and were contracted to work for a period of seven years. As the children arrived they would have signed an indenture which contracted them to work for a period of seven years. The maximum age for a boy was 18 years and for girls it was 21 years.
Only the fittest children would be allowed in the apprentice house, this was because the children would be healthy so it made Greg’s records look good. The apprentice house was opened for 60 years and 25 thousand children had passed through its’ door during that time. The children would be educated but boys more than girls. The boys’ and girls’ had separate dormitories on either side of the house. Sixty girls would have been crammed into the bedroom with two to a bed.
The house was divided into several rooms, the living accommodation of the master and mistress who ran the house, the schoolroom, a large kitchen. Boys’ dormitory, girls’ dormitory, a punishment room and an attic. At Styal education was important. The apprentices had lessons on week days, three nights a week from 8 to 9pm. The children liked school and they also had to attend a Sunday school. William Rathbone Greg said that in 1833 every factory colony that the Greg’s owned there was schools for the children but they were mostly Sunday schools.
However there was a school in the apprentice house at Styal from the beginning and before the mill owners were propelled to provide a school under the 1802 health and morals of apprentices acts. George and Elizabeth Shawcross said the children went to school three nights a week. All the children were able to read but the boys were best at writing because the girls spent time sewing and making clothes for themselves and the boys. Greg claimed the children were not too tiered to learn after working all day.
However in 1806 before the Shawcrosses time, Thomas Priestly was unable to sign his name and could only make his mark after three years at Styal. Education was very different in the urban mills. Night schools were available in Manchester but the children were often too tiered to go and learn. There were very many Sunday Schools. In twenty-two years at Styal between 1811 and 1833 there were seventeen deaths, eight boys and nine girls. The main cause was ‘death in decline’. A doctor was paid twenty pounds a year to look after the children and medicine.
He was a very good doctor and would give the children Brimstone and Black treacle which was a cure for constipation and leeches were used for ‘bad bloods’ and swelling. The Shawcrosses claimed that the local boarding school suffered more illnesses then the mill. There were never any cases of deformity and the only death that was an accident was that of a boy playing on the wheel race as the wheel was being built. They claimed in 1833 that ‘children when they come first don’t look so hearty as when they had been here for some time.
‘ In Manchester though, hundreds of ‘sick spinners’ filled in for spinners who were sick. John Pilkington claimed there were no cleaning facilities except for spinners. It was hot and badly ventilated and the dust in the air caused asthma and suffered from rough, hoarse voices. Workers were often deformed and their growth was stunted. Accidents were common with people being crushed in the machinery. At Manchester infirmary in 1845 there were 962 cases of severe cuts and deformity caused by machinery and for every seven deaths in Manchester, two involved machinery in the mills.