Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire
Sixty girls in all, ages nine to eighteen, sleeping
in pairs, one room crammed with thirty beds,
not a single fire but a window overlooking the courtyard:
one water pump, three privies with a bucket holding straw.
None would grow past four foot eight; worked twelve
hours in the factory, from six a.m., six days a week,
makes seventy-two, with a break for a dollop of porridge
in the right hand and not a single penny’s wage
except for overtime (their payment guarded by the mistress
in her parlour), but room and board in lieu: a hot dinner
every night – potato and cabbage and twice a week, meat,
eked out with a bit more porridge. The factory may have shut
on Sundays, but church in the morning and church in the evening,
two miles there, two miles back is eight, then an hour
for lessons in the classroom, four long tables, eight long benches,
a sand tray, assortment of slates. Take away nine at least.
And their punishment for leaving? From three to seven days’
confinement and the forfeit of their fortune, often pennies,
sometimes pounds. When found, if a girl couldn’t beg her way
to solitary, her hair was chopped off six inches.