WARNING! This book may contain NUTS! (Non-Uniform Text Speech)
In other words speech in what some have called “Olde English Vernacular”. It is spoken by characters in the book from the North, the Midlands and the South of England. There is a glossary at the end of the book to help if you can rise to the challenge. It adds shades of colour to this 19th century story that you may not be expecting.
When Mrs Alexander wrote about “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate” and declared that “God made them, high or lowly, and order’d their estate” in the ever popular hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful, she was probably reflecting one of the mores of the times. It would fit in well with prejudices and beliefs of the middle and upper classes that paternalism had indeed been intended by God, thus laws protecting the workers in their fields, mills and factories were not necessary. In the words of Browning so long as “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world!”
The continuing story of the Quarry Bank Runaways is about what happened to two cotton apprentices over three decades during the Industrial Revolution; first as qualified young men with hopes and later when they are full grown. By the start of the Victorian period the fates and their ambitions would have collided. Serious events and incidents, both personal and national, were about to impinge upon the lives of Thomas Priestley and Joseph Sefton, who had earlier run away from their apprentice master, Samuel Greg. What would cause a qualified mule spinner to give up his comparatively safe job and risk failure, ridicule or destitution? Ambitious and determined working class individuals like Tommy and Joe had to carefully step through a pathway involving love, loyalty and legal persecution and prejudice, from within the social hierarchy of the times.
The inspiration to write The Quarry Bank Runaways and Mules; Masters & Mud came about after reading The Real Oliver Twist by John Waller, a biography of Robert Blincoe, and acting as a tour guide around the Quarry Bank Mill Museum in England. There to discover the existence of the real apprentices and the lives of many child cotton apprentices during the Industrial Revolution.
“I enjoyed the subplots and characters by Christy Nicholas”
Mules, Masters, & Mud covers a time period and place where I had very little background knowledge ahead of time. The author did a great job in describing the conditions of the cotton mill, the struggle of the families to survive and improve their situations, and the personalities involved in the story. Despite the hardships, Joseph and Thomas offer hope and work to pull themselves up from their straits.
I enjoyed the subplots and characters, especially the Luddites and their interaction with the other groups. The social commentary was extensive, but didn’t come across as burdensome or excessively preachy. The gritty, realistic scenes and ugly details worked perfectly in this environment, and made it more vivid and poignant. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the time period or story.