Hannah Francis has been forced to leave her beloved mother and the life she knows in the silk mill town of Macclesfield and is set to become an apprentice at a cotton mill in the Derbyshire dales. It is a cruel blow for such a young girl, but her three travelling companions are even younger than she is, and Hannah is determined to keep their spirits up and remain in good cheer.
Once she is settled in the mill, Hannah discovers that the hours of work are long, and the daily routine is dangerous, arduous and harsh, but her bright singing and capacity for joy lighten the load for everyone.
Hannah soon becomes a favourite with the other mill workers. Friendships are forged and an innocent love starts to blossom. But can such a fragile love survive cruel reality? It is not long before she attracts the eye of Edmund Critchlow, the man who owns them all, body and soul – the man from whom no pretty mill girl is safe.
Times are hard in the cotton industry as civil war rages across America affecting even the mill owner and the lives of all his workers . . .