“The Greg family at Styal treated all their employees fairly”. Using the sources and your own knowledge explain whether you agree with this interpretation of the Greg family as employers. The Gregs had a 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.
As Source A indicates, there were a variety of different reasons to why Samuel Greg relied heavily on apprentice labour. As well as being ‘physically suited for the work’, there were many of them available during the time, which was a particular advantage to Styal when local labour became short. As Source A also states, many of the children employed at Styal, had previously been under the responsibility of the parishes. In comparison to the parishes, life at Styal Mill was of a much higher status. In fact, the Styal apprentices appear to have lived better than many of their contemporaries.
In towns in particular many apprentices lived and worked in appalling conditions. Styal offered many substantial benefits over towns. According to Samuel Greg’s son, the best way to recruit and keep loyal and reliable workers was’ fair wages; comfortable houses; gardens for their vegetables and flowers; schools and other means of improvement for children; sundry little accommodations and conveniences in the mill, and interest in their general welfare. ‘ Other members of the family appear to have shared his views. As we can gather from studying Source B, education was provided at Styal Mill.
In the mid 18th century, schools were only provided for privileged children. Mill owners like Samuel Greg were under no obligation to provide education for the children in their care until the ‘Health and Morals of Apprentices Act’ came into force in 1802. At Styal, Greg did provide education for the Mill’s apprentice children before 1802. Many teachers were employed at the mill and apprentices were taught maths, reading, writing and music. In 1823, the Gregs built Oak School, which the village children could also attend.
Young children were taught during the day, the older ones at night. There were also opportunities for adults to gain an education, with the ‘Mutual Improvement Society’, which specialised in helping adults at Styal learn to read and write. Many of the children and adults at Styal were able to gain a good education, providing them with opportunities that perhaps towns and other mills were not able to give. The Greg family also made sure that their workers were physically fit and healthy, in addition, Samuel Greg employed a doctor from 1788 for a fee of i?? 20 a year.
He was one of the earliest factory doctors and was responsible for the health of the apprentices. As George and Elizabeth Shawcross also state in Source C, there was very little sickness in the mill, and children when they first arrive at Styal, do not look as healthy as they do when they have been there for some time. Again, this proves that the Greg’s made sure their employee’s were well looked after and were treated fairly. The fact that the Greg’s were under no obligation to provide a doctor substantiates to us how the workers benefited from being at Styal.
As a result of the good healthcare provided, life expectancy was better at Styal than in the towns. Samuel Greg also provided loans to establish other medical facilities including a dispensary, a Sick Club, and a Female Society to assist with the problems of childbirth. Membership of the Sick Club was compulsory: a farthing was taken off each shilling of their wages. The club paid out up to twelve weeks half pay for illnesses and fixed expenses for funerals. Source D also pictures a modern reconstruction of the Apprentice House at Styal in about 1830.
The apprentices lived in the Apprentice House and were looked after by a superintendent and his wife. In addition to food and lodging, a doctor attended to their needs and some education was also provided. Houses were also provided for families and other workers situated at Styal. The houses that Samuel Greg built were similar to those build in the towns. In Styal however, villagers had the natural benefit of rural surroundings; in overcrowded towns, with inadequate sanitation, such houses quickly became slums.
Styal’s houses were separated by courts and alleys; ‘back to back’ type houses were never built here. At Styal, each house came with it’s own allotment and privy, which was much better in comparison to the towns, where you had to share a privy with as many as one hundred people. Houses in the towns were also undrained and stagnant waste piled up around them. As well as better quality houses and surroundings available at Styal, rents were also lower than in the towns, as they were based on agricultural rates.
They were deducted from workers’ wages each week. Although Source E does not give a positive impression of Styal Mill, it is important to remember that many people who disagreed with child labour often-exaggerated events. Styal Mill proved to be a very good, healthy and fair society for people, although however, the working days were exceedingly long. Work in the mills was often monotonous and repetitive; a child could spend all day tying ends of cotton or cleaning fluff from the machines.