833;- Workers at the Quarry Bank cotton mill - many of them young orphans from the work-house - rise early for a long day. Over-looker Crout neglects his duty to sexually molest apprentice Miriam, leading to young Tommy losing a hand in the machinery. Hannah, the kindly, abolitionist wife of mill-owner Samuel Greg, nurses the boy back to health but her husband is more concerned that this will reflect badly when the parish commission arrives to look into working conditions. Spirited Esther Price reports Crout to them but he talks his way out of it. Meanwhile engineer Daniel Bate is released from debtors' prison to build a power loom for the Gregs' son Robert and immediately attacks John Doherty, an agitator for shorter working hours, which is being considered by parliament. Daniel impresses Esther with his concerns for safety and rescues her from Crout's lustful attentions. However she steals one of his spanners to sabotage the bell which signals the start of the working day and is found out.

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