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Styal Mill - "The Gregs had a genuine concern for the welfare of their apprentices". Do the visual, documentary and oral sources support this view?

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Introduction

3. "The Gregs had a genuine concern for the welfare of their apprentices". Do the visual, documentary and oral sources support this view? The Gregs had very genuine concern for the welfare and well being at Styal Mill. Several of the visual, documentary and oral sources support this view very strongly, and show us that because of this concern for the well being of their apprentices, the Gregs went out of their way to give them the best possible life at the mill. The Gregs were very religious as a family, mainly due to Samuel Greg marrying Hannah Lightbody, who was a Unitarian. She soon converted Samuel to Unitarianism, and in 1823, Samuel built Norcliffe Chapel in Styal. Before this was built, the apprentices at the mill had to walk to St. Bartholomew's for church on a Sunday. Something which the Gregs did not use at Styal was corporal punishment. When questioned by the Factory Commissioners in 1834, Samuel Greg told them that apprentices received "barely beyond a box on the ear, to call attention". He also told them that corporal punishment was never used at Styal. There is also no sign of corporal punishment being used at Styal in the records kept there, but this does not mean that it definitely did not happen. ...read more.

Middle

These conditions are far greater then those of other mills around the country. Samuel Greg's punishments were tame in comparison to some. Robert Blincoe, from Litton Mill in Derbyshire said "I have seen the time when two handle of a pound weight have been screwed to my ears...", "Mr Needham was in the habit of knocking down apprentices with his clenched fists..." and "three or four of us have been hung on a cross beam above the machinery, hanging by our hands...". Elizabeth Bentley told a parliamentary committee that in Leeds Mill, they were "strapped" and that the girls had "black marks on their skin". However, it is believed that the amount of corporal punishment in mills has been exaggerated to improve conditions for children, so the reliability of these sources from Robert Blincoe and Elizabeth Bentley is debateable. The Education in other mills was also poor in comparison to Styal's. Even though the 1802 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act was passed, it was not fully enforced, and often ignored. One mill owner found a way around the law, by having his apprentices "educated", by an illiterate man who stoked the boilers. The apprentices at Styal were also very well fed. When speaking to Middlesex Magistrates Court, both Thomas Priestley and Joseph Sefton told of a good diet, consisting of dishes like lob scouse, bread, porridge and bacon. ...read more.

Conclusion

Greg also educated his children very well, and although it is difficult to see, he may have had an ulterior motive for this too. Literate people were seen as better then others. If he had children who could all read and write, it would make them better mannered and would give them something to fill their time with when they weren't working, giving them less chance to cause trouble. It seems more likely that Samuel Greg had a genuine concern for his apprentices then for his overall earnings as mill owner, despite their being several possibilities that say otherwise. Most of the negative sides to his treatment of the apprentices are supposition, and therefore can be discounted as evidence against Greg. Some sources can also be discounted as evidence supporting the statement "The Gregs had a genuine concern for the welfare of their apprentices", due to the reliability of it. Some of the sources comparing Styal to other mills around the country could be exaggerated, and some of the testimony of Sefton and Priestley could also be discounted, but again, this is supposition. The work Greg did for the apprentices outweighs these minor factors, such as building the church and employing Doctor Holland, so despite any ulterior motives he had to treating his apprentices so well, it is proven that they did lead good lives for young mill workers. ...read more.

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