The Mill Girls

Written by Tracy Johnson
Review by Claire Thurlow

Tracey Johnson relates the true stories of four women who worked in the Lancashire mills from the 1930s to the 1970s. Doris, Audrey, Marjorie and Maureen share similar backgrounds of childhood poverty in northern England, leaving school at 14 or 15 and taking one of the few jobs available to them. Despite the health hazards of cotton dust, long hours standing at the looms and dangerous machinery, there are compensations of camaraderie among the predominantly female workforce and the security of a regular income, even during the Depression and wartime. This memoir provides vivid descriptions of life in a mill town, as seen through the eyes of each woman. Their recollections paint a picture of an era when stoicism and hardship were commonplace, and choices for working women were few. Despite accounts of childhood polio, and disfiguring injuries caused by the flying shuttles of the looms, there are also happy memories of playful banter and kindness among the female workers. The four narratives provide unsentimental insights, not only into personal tragedies and victories, but into changing social attitudes over the past eighty years. The Mill Girls makes a down-to-earth and touching contribution to our understanding of the lives of the women who worked in the cotton mills.