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It is 1860, and Hannah Morley and her widowed mother have fallen on hard times.
They have moved from the country into cheap lodgings in Blackfriars Lane, Manchester, and become deeply concerned for the welfare of a child who lives next door.
Meanwhile, Hannah finds work at the sprawling Bronton workhouse, which is undergoing many changes under the supervision of the master, John Gidley.
She becomes acquainted with several of the workhouse guardians and with the unpleasant Miss Phipps.
As Hannah and her mother become increasingly disturbed by the knowledge that all is far from well next door, she also suspects sinister goings-on
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