Mill Workers and Owners

Punishments and forfeits

The controlled system (or the 'carrot and stick' approach)

Richard Arkwright and the Strutts adopted what is known as the 'carrot and stick' approach. Incentives such as housing, better wages and schooling were used to encourage loyalty and good behaviour as well a system of penalties to deter workers from breaking the rules. They rejected corporal punishment for dealing with poor work, lateness or bad behaviour. Instead the mills operated a fining, or forfeits, system which applied penalties to workers breaking the strict rules in place.


At Belper Mill, the fine system was operated by workers working a six day week but only being paid for five. The pay for the fifth day would be kept back and known as ‘quarterly gift money’. Fines would be taken out of this and the remaining amount paid at the end of each quarter in a lump sum. Workers were also expected to behave appropriately in their leisure time.



Look at the list of  Strutt's Mill punishable offences and group them to identify the different aspects of work and life that the mill owners influenced.


Using the Story board worksheet, take an offence from Strutt's Mill record of punishable offences and dramatise a scene based around it, role playing the overseer and the workers.



Extend this activity by reviewing the information provided on working conditions and benefits from the previous pages, and splitting the class into two sides; mill workers and owners. Each side should then argue the pros and cons of the ‘carrot and stick’ approach for both the mill owners and workers.


The following key questions could be used to support the discussion:

  • How could the carrot and stick approach encourage workers to do their best in the workplace?
  • Is it fair that the millowners could influence the lives of the workers outside working hours?
  • Who seemed to have more rights, millowners or millworkers?


Document icon Learning article provided by: Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site | 
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