John Keith Atkinson was the son of former agricultural labourers James and Mary Atkinson. They moved to Holmeside to work in Outcote Mill when their agricultural employer’s farm was sold by the landowner to another landowner to make his holdings bigger and more profitable. With their jobs gone and their tied home lost, they followed other migrants into the town. John was an infant when they moved.
In Holmeside the Atkinson family, including five children, lived in the fusty cellar of an already crowded house that gave rude shelter to four families besides them. Two families occupied two upstairs bedrooms, and another two lived in a single ground floor room. The parents of all five families and the older children worked at Staithes’ mill.…show more content… There, children learned through beatings, deprivation, and fear to yield to their keeper. Keepers tormented their minds, abused their bodies, and determined every other aspect of their existence. Like most pauper children, John grew morose and sullen. He lacked the spontaneity of normal children, and lived in permanent dread that another tragedy might crush him.
He remembered the day he and sixty other children were ordered to make paper parcels of their belongings. Brown paper and string were provided. With their bundles, they were packed like sardines into the back of two horse drawn caravans and trundled over rough roads for a week before arriving at Outcote Mill. They were bruised and in pain from their confinement, having had no room to stretch their limbs during the journey. Jumping down from the carts at journey’s end sent shafts of pain through them.
From the moment he arrived in the care of Reynold Walkden Staithes, young Atkinson was nothing but a factory apprentice, one of many whose individuality and needs were disregarded. This was his introduction to the apprentice system that was purportedly governed by humane regulations. The provisions of the law not being applied, the result was that appalling cruelties were routinely visited upon apprentice children.
Manufacturing industries got into their stride as the seventeenth century