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The Mill: Character biographies

Esther Price (Kerrie Hayes)

Esther Price (17) is an irrepressible wild child, smart as a whip and always ready with a cutting remark. She is the youngest daughter of a sail-maker who could not afford to raise her, so Esther was sent to the Liverpool workhouse. At the age of 12 she became an indentured apprentice at Quarry Bank Mill. Esther is a natural rebel, by instinct rather than intellect, and her outspokenness can create enemies. When she discovers that her terms of service misrepresent her age, which means she will have to work as an unpaid apprentice for longer, she resolves to uncover the truth and finds herself locked in a battle of wills with the Mill owner, Robert Greg. Esther’s attack on Robert’s authority is not taken lightly and she is subjected to harsh discipline. This only hardens her resolve to be heard. Esther Price is based on a real character whose experiences as an apprentice at Quarry Bank Mill were used by campaigners at the time to illustrate the importance of the Ten Hour Movement. Her story builds on historical record and we know that Esther did run away from Quarry Bank Mill with fellow apprentice, Lucy Garner. As punishment, Esther’s hair was going to be cut off but she begged for leniency and was not subjected to this punishment and she was instead put in solitary confinement. Records state she was locked in a room with apprentice house warden Mrs Timperley, who died suddenly. In fact, this scene in The Mill is filmed on location in the same attic.

Lucy Garner (Katherine Rose Morley)

Lucy Garner (16) is a timid, sensitive girl who arrives from the Liverpool workhouse to replace an apprentice who has lost a hand. Fate gives her Esther Price as a bed mate and mentor. Mr Timperley, the apprentice house warden, takes her sister Catherine back to the workhouse as she is deemed too ill to stay at Quarry Bank Mill. Rather than returning her, however, he abandons her in a field en route to Liverpool. The ill child is too weak to walk and she never makes it back to Liverpool. Esther inspires some fight in Lucy, once her sister has gone, and they run away together to Liverpool to seek the truth about Catherine's fate. In spite of being caught and returned Lucy’s friendship remains a reason for Esther to keep on struggling for something bigger than herself. Lucy Garner was an apprentice at Quarry Bank Mill who did run away with Esther Price but little more is known of the historical character, other than the fact that she was locked in solitary confinement as punishment.

Susannah Catterall (Holly Lucas)

Susannah Catterall (20) is the oldest apprentice in the Apprentice House. She’s proud, with a pragmatic view of the world. She is used to playing surrogate mother to her two siblings and many of the younger apprentices. Now she is pregnant and knows full well that she can expect little support from the father, William Greg, one of Samuel Greg’s sons. Her pride means she is determined to raise her child and make her own way regardless. Then Daniel Bate walks into her life and opens her eyes to the political struggle taking place around them for better working rights and conditions. Susannah Catterall was one of two apprentices at Quarry Bank Mill who appear in the records as having had a child while indentured but the father, according to the archive, remains a mystery. Little else is known about her.

Miriam Catterall (Sacha Parkinson)

Miriam Catterall (17) is younger and less savvy than her sister Susannah. This puts her at the mercy of the sexually predatory overseer, Charlie Crout. Fear of reprisals makes Miriam too scared to speak out, and it is this silence that proves too much for Esther who provokes a confrontation with the masters at the Mill. Miriam Catterall is a fictional creation.

Daniel Bate (Matthew McNulty)

Daniel Bate (28) is Manchester-Irish and a brilliantly skilled mechanic. Daniel is a natural socialist with great faith in the transforming power of technology. He’s an idealist who has seen both sides of the manufacturing divide as a committed working men’s organiser and as an aspiring entrepreneur. However, personal experience has made him bitter about political campaigning and left him with a powerful animosity towards John Doherty, one of Manchester’s leading political activists. Daniel is naturally taciturn, but with a fierce temper and a keen nose for injustice, so it is only a matter of time before he reacts to the realities of working life at Quarry Bank. Daniel Bate is a fictional creation, whose starting point in life was as a real-life watchmaker taken from debtors’ prison by the Gregs to work at Quarry Bank as a mechanic.

John Doherty (Aidan McArdle)

John Doherty (35) is a handsome, charismatic, Irish political organiser and pamphleteer devoted to improving the lot of the working man and woman. He is campaigning to reduce the working hours for children – the Ten Hour Movement – and employers like Samuel Greg and sons are firmly in his sights. Doherty knows that concessions are never given, they must always be taken, and to wrest them from the hands of the powerful requires both diligence and opportunism. John Doherty is a man with plenty of both. John Doherty was an Irish trade unionist and factory reformer. He was a cotton spinner from the age of ten in his native Ireland. He published the influential ‘The Voice of the People’ and was one of the leading campaigners in the Ten Hour Movement. Parliament finally agreed to reduce the working day to ten hours as part of the 1847 Factory Acts.

Samuel Greg (Donald Sumpter)
Samuel Greg (74) is a practical man at the end of his life. He is hard but fair and recognised by his workers as such. As a Unitarian and non-conformist the professions were closed to him by law, so he has ridden the wave of early industrialisation to become one of England’s ‘Cotton Kings’. Now he could and should retire. Neither his body nor his mind are what they used to be, but old habits die hard and he simply cannot let go of the reins. Although it is time to hand things over to the next generation, Samuel still thinks of Quarry Bank as his personal estate.
Samuel Greg was the owner of Quarry Bank Mill and one of the ‘Cotton Kings’ in what was then the UK’s largest export industry. He helped to found The Manchester Guardian, Northern Stock Exchange and Manchester railway lines.

Hannah Greg (Barbara Marten)

Hannah Greg (65) was brought up within the progressive and cultured merchant class in Liverpool, with close relatives and friends who are prominent in the abolitionist movement. Marriage took her to the Mill and the countryside, and away from the educated people she feels at home with. Here the harsh nature of child labour at the Mill is not lost on her and as a champion of health and education she has established a permanent doctor and a school. She is a great supporter of the abolitionist movement to free slaves in the colonies putting her at odds with her husband and sons. The Gregs own a plantation on the Caribbean island of Dominica. She is an advocate of paternalism and betterment of the children but struggles to make the connection between the apprentices’ child slavery and the campaign to free slaves abroad. Hannah Greg was the real wife of Samuel Greg, and the character reflects her political and social convictions.

Robert Greg (Jamie Draven)

Robert Greg (37) becomes the manager of Quarry Bank Mill at a time when the industry is undergoing huge upheaval. He is ambitious and intelligent but he lacks his father’s natural flair. He relies too much on the authority of his position. Robert is aware that progress in business, in politics and in labour relations will all require new responses and that Quarry Bank is not insulated from the winds of change. This is a period of extreme competition in the cotton industry and every mill is struggling to make a profit. He is intensely frustrated that his father Samuel will not give him a free rein. However, Robert is a poor judge of character and is both quick to assert himself and slow to listen. It is these qualities that rapidly bring him into conflict with his work force. Robert Greg was the real son of Samuel Greg and took over the management of Quarry Bank Mill after his father died in 1834. He was the fourth child of the Gregs, and one of thirteen. Robert played an active role in intellectual life in Manchester. He was particularly interested in politics and had a short-lived career as an MP for Manchester. He was a vociferous opponent of the Ten Hour Movement, trade unionism and factory reform.

Mr Timperley (Kevin McNally)

Mr Timperley (46) is the two-faced Apprentice House warden. One smiling face for the Mill owners and another harsher face reserved for the apprentices themselves. He loves his wife and he loves his near total control of the Apprentice House. If it were not for the Greg family rule against all corporal punishment, Mr Timperley is certain his control would be complete. Nothing gives him more satisfaction than asserting his power over vulnerable children and receiving gratitude and deference in return. Mr and Mrs Timperley were in charge of the Apprentice House in the mid 1830s. Despite the Timperleys’ draconian rule, the historical record states that their regime coincided with a deterioration in discipline.

Mrs Timperley (Claire Rushbrook)

As a woman Mrs Timperley (39) is cursed with the lion’s share of the work in the Apprentice House and little of the prestige. The role has turned her into a tough manager of the children. She has a sharp tongue and little sympathy for their suffering or exhaustion.

Mr and Mrs Timperley were in charge of the Apprentice House in the mid 1830s. Despite the Timperleys’ draconian rule, the historical record states that their regime coincided with a deterioration in discipline.