Mrs Trollope went about the collection of background material with characteristic efficiency. The effects of the experiences can easily be traced in Michael Armstrong. The tale centres around the imaginary Lancashire factory town of Ashleigh, and the narrative reflects the conditions of the 1820s. Sir Matthew is trapped by his social ambitions into adopting a miserable ten-year-old factory boy, Michael Armstrong, from his Brookford spinning mill. The late Humphry House, in The Dickens World, warned against the temptation to make uncritical use of Charles Dickens' novels as sources for the social and economic history of his times. One of the illustrations in Michael Armstrong had a curious later history. It purports to show a scene during a tour of Dowling's Brookford Mill, when the sleek, well-dressed and adopted Michael Armstrong greets his younger brother Edward, who is still at work as a child labourer.