MR STRUTT’S MILL – 1808.
A young woman in her late teens. Her long hair is scraped back into a small cotton cap, she wears a white blouse under a sleeved bodice, ankle length woollen skirt, baggy wool stockings, leather-topped clogs with shiny buckles. Across her shoulders is a dark woven shawl. She carries a small sack-like bag. Her voice is high and quite strident.
I’m Sarah. I’m a picker at Mr Strutt’s mill. I work there with my sister Janet, we’ve not been there that long. We had to leave our old cottage when the big farm was sold off. That was near Shottle. Pa was told there was work here and a house, which is why we came. Pa is a labourer outside, same as he was on t’ farm. Ma is at home but will come to t’ mill when Tom and Annie come. Mr Strutt says they cannot come until they can read but Tom does not care to go to Sunday school or learn to read and says he will work with Pa. Annie helps Ma take in washing and says she will go to Sunday school – but not yet.
I like it better in the mill now the weather is turning. Pa works outside and says he’s not a nesh git, but I think he does get cold. Tom must be mad – all for being scared of trying to read. The mornings are dark and often foggy and the lamps look friendly in t’ mill when the bell goes and we all clop down over the cobbles. As we get closer, we can smell that sharp, dusty smell. Our house is further up town which I think is good because you cannot hear the machinery. We can hear the beating and thump like drums coming towards us as we walk. In t’ mill it is hot and the noise when you are in there means you cannot hear people – you all have to shout. When you come out afterwards, you’re deaf for a bit.
Do you like my new clogs? I keep them clean, especially the buckles. I bought them with my own wages. I used to get Janet’s old boots but now I am grown-up and have money of my own, Ma said I could buy clogs like other girls at mill. We give her the wages that are in coin, she puts the money in pots for each of us. The rest of our wages is tickets for rent, milk, coal and the like. It took three weeks before I could get my clogs. If it’s something dear, she helps us save – we are both saving for winter cloaks, she has set up a special pot for that.
Ma says she saw people going on the Parish or having to beg when she was young. She says that she will not have that happen to us. Pa gives her his wages and she allows him back his ale-money – he’s a good man and men must have their ale-money she says. Hannah in the close round the corner has hen poults for sale. Ma says she will buy two or three next week and some corn then we shall have our own eggs.
Kitty at mill says putting wages on tickets is like Mr Strutt having his own slaves without all the bother of fetching them from Africa. We’re tied to the mill by tickets and quarterly gift money – you don’t get that if you just leave. I told Ma and she said Mistress Kitty must never have been hungry or gone on the Parish. She says we get good food, eat plenty and don’t have to worry, which is a deal better than the cottage at Shottle. She said she would settle for that. Also to mind what I said at mill, she didn’t want me known as a troublemaker. I said not to worry, there was such a racket no-one could hear what you said unless they stuck their ear in your mouth!
We work six days, like other trades, the seventh day we go to chapel. Ma says we all have to wash off the dirt from our toil before we meet the Lord – and she doesn’t mean Mr George Strutt either! She says she will buy a big wooden tub so we can take baths like the gentry. Pa says it’s more important you put on clean linen, that’s what his mother said. That does feel good, she was right there, but Ma won’t have it. Clean clothes and clean bodies please! Saturday evening we take turns to go behind the blankets, in front the fire, there is only a little bowl and Ma boils up water and we have to share some of it or we’d be there all night. Tom says he doesn’t need to bother as he does not work so does not get dirty. Pa clipped his ear for being saucy.
We’re all smelling of soap when we come to chapel in morning and we do see Mr George and his family, they come in through a special door they had made. Kitty says they get everywhere, like mice. Queer mice in silk coats say I. I like chapel, we all sing hymns and listen to bible readings. About how God loves each of us, we’re all in his image both rich and poor – Kitty says if that’s so why weren’t we all born with silver spoons in our mouths, like some she could mention?
Tom won’t go on to Sunday school, he runs off then, but Annie says she will go next week when Hannah’s Mary will be starting. At Sunday school there’s bible and prayers, reading – the Lord’s word as we all live by – that’s what they tell us. Then there’s writing and numbers, adding and subtracting. My reading’s good now – big words are no bother, and there’s plenty about improving yourself and how you can get more from your life – no-one ever said owt like that to us back at Shottle.
By Bridget McLarnon, White Peak Writers