Orphan Polly Freeman lives with her seamstress aunt Jemima in London. One day when her aunt gets caught thieving, they are sent to St Pancras Workhouse. Jemima pretending to be mad, is locked in the lunatic ward while Polly has to work picking ropes of old ships to untwist the reusable fabric. In the workhouse, Polly finds it really difficult to make friends. Only Min is nice to her and the two become inseparable. After a few weeks, Polly and Min are recruited to work for a mill in the north of England. Working at the mill is very dangerous but at least Polly and Min are well fed and have a warm bed.