Ruby and Grace had grown up in the slums of Middle Court, the poorest place in Hull. Friends since early childhood, they had supported each other in bad times and good. Ruby's ma, Bess, addicted to the opium which dulled the pain of her miserable existence, tried hard to be a good mother, but without too much success, while Grace's parents, Bob and Lizzie, looked after the girl as well as their own family as best they could. But the two families were bound together by more than friendship, and secrets from the past threatened to make their hard lives even more difficult.
The local cotton mill had provided work for Ruby and Grace since they were nine years old, but with the decline of the industry they, like many others, were cast off. Both girls found themselves the object of attention from the mill owner's sons, but as times grew harder, and money became ever scarcer, Grace became involved in militant campaigns against poverty and injustice, while Ruby was tempted into prostitution. Both girls were searching for something which would take them far away from the slums they had always known.