The Chain Mail

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A Day in the Life of a Victorian Mill Worker


Hello, my name is Hannah, I’m 14 years old and I have been working at Stanley Mills for the last five years.

Picture of Stanley Mills

Stanley Mills

It was very daunting when I first started as the building was so big and full of hands – that’s what they call us workers. I wondered if I would ever settle in here, but I quickly got used to the noise from all the machines, the cotton dust in the air and the long hours standing up in a hot room. Well, I had to make do or else I would be out of a job and that’s money my family can’t afford to lose.

But it’s not as bad as it seems as there are plenty of other girls here my age and at break time we do get to enjoy a few minutes of peace to have a blether. Let me tell you a little more about a typical day for me here at the mill so you can judge for yourself what it’s like.

  • 5am – I get up and have a quick bite to eat, usually some oatcakes, and with my older sister Sarah (16).
  • 5.45am – We make our way to the mill after our oatcakes
  • 5.50am – On the way to the mill we meet many of the other workers, mostly women and children, although a few men are also employed here for doing the more important jobs. We head down the mill brae and must be inside the building before the bell stops ringing or we will face a fine that is taken out of our wages.

Children in costume as millworkers

  • 6am – Once we are in the building we split up and head to our various tasks. I head to the carding room where I work. The room is full of big, noisy machines that tease the cleaned cotton into long fibres called slivers.

Meanwhile Sarah goes to the spinning room. My first task is to put my apron on, tie back my hair and to take my clogs off. It is better to be barefoot in here as the oil from the machines makes it very slippery.

A picture of Slivers


  • 6.10am –It is my job to change over the cans the slivers go into. I carefully watch the cans as if I let one overflow the precious slivers will fall on the ground and become dirty and I will get fined.
  • 7am – The overseer comes into the room to check how we are doing. He notices wee Annie isn’t paying attention and some of her slivers have fallen on the floor. He strikes her with his strap and tells her to expect a fine; her mother who works in the spinning room will not be happy with that.
  • 9am – Breakfast time at last! I am meant to get 45 minutes to eat my porridge and it is a rare chance to chat with my friends. In the mill we have to use a sign language. We can’t talk normally because the machines are too noisy.
  • 9.45am – Back to work. I’m still looking after my cans in the carding room.
  • 12.30pm – It’s finally lunch time and if I’m lucky another 45 minutes to eat my cold potato. We don’t often get our full breaks as there is a lot of work to do in the mill and they need us back at our stations earlier.
  • 2.30pm – I am getting very tired by this point in the day and I need to try and stay awake as the machines have no guards; it would be all too easy to get clothing caught in them or lose a finger like my friend Bessie.
  • 6pm – After working for 12 hours it is finally time to head home, although my work isn’t over for the day as I need to help with the household chores before I can think about laying down my weary head for the night.

General view of Stanley Mills
So now you have had a chance to see what I do in a day, what do you think? Do you think you would be happy to work here six days a week doing the same task every day with only a Sunday off for prayer and rest?

Come to Stanley Mills this weekend and find out more about life in a cotton mill during the Victorian era. This is a free event.


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Eilidh is Monument Manager at Stanley Mills

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