Class 4 all visited Coldharbour Mill today in the hope of securing employment at the woollen mill. They were met by the manager, Mr Robinson, who was looking for fit young employees the would be able to run fast and duck out of the way of the dangerous machines.

There were a surprising number of children who volunteered to climb the mill chimney and clear the rats out of the sluice pond, and Mr Robinson was impressed with the number of teeth the children had!

While the children were being tested, we met employee Annie Armstrong, who was late to work as her boy was ill. Mr Robinson wasn’t very sympathetic and later on, when he found out Annie had been speaking to troublemakers who were looking to improve the pay and conditions at the Mill, she was dismissed.

Although he was dismayed at the stacking and sorting skills shown by the Georgeham children, Mr Robinson was so amazed at the fact they could read, write and spell he offered every single child a job. (He did express some concerns about the standards at the school when he learnt the children had been reading works of fiction and sitting on chairs, and he was also surprised they were still there at the age of 10.)

After lunch we were taken on a tour of the mill and shown the machines. The children found out how the wool was produced and the sort of jobs they would be required to do. The looms were incredibly noisy and we were able to imagine how it might have been working in a room with 1,000 going at once. We also found out some of the factory rules:

– 6 day weeks from 6am – 8pm with 20 min lunch break
– No talking while at work
– No leaving your machine while on shift
– Standing at all times, no sitting or leaning

When the children were offered a chance to work there they had mixed feelings, however most felt they had little alternative but to sign the contract they were offered. Annie was also given a second chance after pleading with Mr Robinson – it turns out she is the only one at the mill who can dye the wool indigo!

We had a great day. Thanks to Claire and Emma for helping and to all the parents for getting the children there for the early start, and providing costumes. It was a thought provoking opportunity to experience working in a Victorian mill.