#Bookreview – The Quarry Bank Runaways: The Journey to London of Thomas Priestley & Joseph Sefton in 1806

book reviews

What Amazon says

“Child apprentices in very many cotton mills continued to be treated like slaves well after the Slave Trade Acts of the 19th century.”

“Pauper child apprentices from workhouses were not even paid after working 12 hour days and for 5 or 6 days a week, mill owners counted the profit!”

In the early 19th century, when it was the policy of many of the poorhouses and workhouses to deter paupers from applying by making the conditions inside harsh and unpleasant, two boys set out on a journey to Hackney Workhouse in London. Their starting point was in the pleasant Cheshire countryside, where they were apprenticed to the cotton mill built by Samuel Greg in 1784. Children as young as 9 would be employed there, as scavengers, piecers, mule doffers or can tenters. These jobs could be just as unpleasant and difficult for a poor child as those we may have heard of, such as chimney sweeps and match girls.

Quarry Bank Mill was some 200 miles north of London and the boys had to sneak out unnoticed and then attempt to walk all the way. It was likely that these enterprising travellers took advantage of the drovers’ roads and the newly developed “motorways” of the times – the canals. Perhaps they were lucky enough some days to hitch a lift; their general direction of travel taking them to Beartown, the Potteries, Dunstable Downs and eventually to London. Whatever challenges they encountered along the way archive evidence shows that they made it.

Runaway apprentices had become a problem for society during the years of the Industrial Revolution – so what had prompted Thomas and Joseph to do such a hazardous thing? What happened to them on their long journey? Did they receive any help? Or were they chased relentlessly wherever they ran, since what they were doing was illegal in the eyes of the authorities?

This is the story of their adventure and it concludes with the events in the Middlesex courthouse, known then as the Old Sessions.

My review

I was introduced to the writing of G.J. Griffith through the second book in this series, Mules, Masters & Mud, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I found this first book to be equally entertaining and interesting and I found myself even fonder of the main characters, Joseph and Thomas, as teenagers in The Quarry Bank Runaways.

Joseph and Thomas are both indentured apprentices to Quarry Bank Mill in the early 19th century, having spent the later part of their short childhoods in a workhouse in London after their mothers fell on hard times. The boys vividly recall the journey from London to the mill near Manchester in the bank of an enclosed wagon with a lot of other children. The paupers were bumped around and arrived battered and bruised and, although their master, Mr Greg, is one of the better mill owners as far as treatment of his workers was concerned, life does not improve for the apprentices after their arrival.

Following an accident in which Thomas loses a finger, he is desperate to travel to London to visit his mother. Joseph decides to accompany him and take advantage and visit his own mother. The two boys make a plan and manage to escape the mill and set off on the long and arduous journey by foot to London. Their determination to visit their mothers during a time of physical challenge seemed very natural to me and the mill owner was unkind to disallow the journey. Mr Greg’s refusal of Thomas’ request to have leave of absence from the mill highlighted the fact that workers were treated as commodities at that time in history and had no rights whatsoever.

The story tells of the boys journey and the various people they meet along the way. Many are kindly and do their best to assist the runaways, but others attempt to exploit them for their own personal gain.

The detailed depictions of life during the early years of the industrial revolution and the awful work conditions and related health issues in various walks of life from mill workers to bargemen to potters to charcoal burners is well researched and fascinating. The reader is also given a brief glimpse into the lives of a retired night watchman, a magistrate and a scullery maid as well as the harsh laws impacting the lives of people forced to enter the workhouses.

The dialogue is written in various dialects which some readers may find a bit challenging, but I quickly got used to it and thought it added to the authentic feel of the time and the story. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy delving into history and how people lived in the past.

Purchase The Quarry Bank Runaways: The Journey to London of Thomas Priestley & Joseph Sefton in 1806

22 thoughts on “#Bookreview – The Quarry Bank Runaways: The Journey to London of Thomas Priestley & Joseph Sefton in 1806

  1. This sounds very interesting, Robbie. My TBR is overwhelming, but I’m going to hop over to Amazon and check this one out in detail. Your review has me intrigued, and historical accounts always fascinate me.

    Liked by 1 person

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