In 1854, 12-year-old Hannah Francis is living in the Macclesfield workhouse with her mother. The workhouse master has an agreement with Critchlow’s cotton mill to provide pauper apprentices, a cheap form of labour, and sends Hannah and three other youngsters to the mill. Separated from her mother, Hannah takes it upon herself to look after her three young travelling companions and keep up their spirits. Despite the harsh working conditions, Hannah’s cheerfulness wins her many friends. But when she comes to the attention of the mill’s evil owner, matters take a tragic turn, and even the good-natured Hannah finds herself plotting revenge. The story moves between the workhouse and silk mills of Macclesfield to the cotton mills of the Derbyshire dales, touching on the hardships of the working families when the American Civil War creates a cotton famine that threatens a whole industry.
This is a heart-warming tale. Ms Dickinson is a natural storyteller, and there are enough twists in the tale to keep the reader involved right to the end, although the final resolution does seem a little rushed.