The waifs who found hope in Calderdale...

They came from Liverpool to live in rural Halifax with the promise of work and a new life. Estefania Aguirre looks back on an extraordinary story...

MORE than a century ago the first of around 250 girls, some as young as 10, came to work in textile mills at Wainstalls.

They were from poor families in the heart of heavily industrialised Liverpool.

Few had ever seen the open countryside or set eyes on a cow or a sheep.

The girls were brought to the outskirts of Halifax, given board and lodgings and put to work repairing threads under the heavy weaving machinery.

This fascinating insight into working life at the start of the 20th century was uncovered by Kim Wynn, of the Wainstalls and Mount Tabor History Group.

And it forms the basis of a celebration for Wainstalls Waifs Week, commemorating the part these girls and young women played in Calderdale's heritage.

Kim's research shows that 17 of them eventually married here, a significant number considering the the population of Wain-stalls was then only 300.

"I've been doing talks on this subject for the past eight years and it's nice to let people know that these girls weren't exploited. They came from dreadful times and a lot was done to help them" says Kim, 52.

She began her research after discovering a headstone with the inscription "In Memory of Orphans Employed by I&I Calvert Wainstalls" in an isolated graveyard in Wainstalls and the names of seven girls.

It lay in the grounds of Luddenden Dene Methodist Chapel, destroyed by fire in 1954.

Futher investigation revealed that more than 250 girls came from Liverpool, each going into the care of Jonathan Calvert, who ran six mills.

They arrived in small groups from 1875 to about 1895. The girls, who would have been easily recognisable by their accents, lived in several orphanages.

One of those was Spring Mill, two joined cottages one and a half miles from Wainstalls village, that were demolished in 1948. Another one was Folly Hall Orphanage in the centre of Wainstalls village, made up of three joined cottages.

Many of the girls were not actually orphans. A good number were the daughters of mariners and forced to move away from home because of the hardship their families endured.

Kim reveals an even more poignant fact. If a girl did not know her birthday, as many would not, she was given the date on which she arrived at her new home to celebrate each year.

When the girls reached 18, they were referred to as "loosed" in the mill registers, which meant they they were no longer under Calvert's guardianship.

Kim said: "When I first began researching the story of the girls I had no idea how large and organised an operation it had been. During just over 20 years over 250 made the journey from Liverpool to Wainstalls.

"Of the girls buried in Luddenden Dene, six died of tuberculosis and one of a congenital disease. Considering the living conditions they must have experienced in Liverpool and the life expectancy at that time it is surprising that more did not succumb. Wild and windy Wainstalls seems to have agreed with them.

"I believe the fact that Jonathan Calvert had the gravestone erected in memory of the seven who died shows that he was concerned about the welfare of the girls. Had he not done so they may have been forgotten and their story may never have been told. At the moment, I know of at least 25 descendants in the area."

The girls worked part time in the mill, going to school half a day and working the rest until they were about 13. Although Kim has not yet established the exact number of hours they worked, the 1874 Factory Act stated children could work in mills up to nine and a half hours per day and up to 56 and a half hours a week.

The girls had Sundays off but had to attend one of the local Methodist chapels. They had two sets of work clothes and a set of Sunday clothes with leather boots and straw hats to go to chapel in.

A presentation of the Wainstall Waifs story takes place at Mount Tabor Methodist Church on Thursday at 7pm and costs 2. And a guided walk through the graveyard and the orphanages in which they lived is on Sunday at 10am and also costs 2.

All money raised will go to Halifax's 2012 Paralympic hopeful 18-year-old Hannah Cockroft, from Mount Tabor. For more information contact Kim Wynn on 07825177853.