Monday, January 6, 2014

New Lanark – Robert Owen

A couple of weeks ago we visited New Lanark – a historical site of an old cotton spinning mill.  New Lanark is a village on the River Clyde, approximately 2 miles from Lanark, about 20 miles southeast of Glasgow.  The mill, and housing for the workers, had been built on the Clyde to take advantage the water-power afforded by the only falls on the River.  The mill was a very successful social experiment of Robert Owen (1771 – 1858).   Owen purchased the mill from his father-in-law (David Dale) and believed that working and living conditions of the factory workers – especially for the children -  could be improved and the mill would still be profitable.  The old adage - "A happy worker is a productive worker".


This is the view looking down from the car park.  The village was built on the banks of the River Clyde.

The New Lanark mills operated until 1968. After a period of decline, the New Lanark Conservation Trust (NLCT) was founded in 1974 to prevent demolition of the village. By 2006 most of the buildings had been restored and the village has become a major tourist attraction.

These were the houses for the workers.
The River Clyde provided power for the mill.  The Clyde flows west to Glasgow and enters the Firth of Clyde.

About two thousand people had associations with the mills. Five hundred of them were children who were brought at the age of five or six from the poorhouses and charities of Edinburgh and Glasgow to work in the mills. The children had been well treated by Dale, but the general condition of the people was very unsatisfactory. Many of the workers were in the lowest levels of the population; theft, drunkenness, and other vices were common; education and sanitation were neglected; and most families lived in one room. The respectable country people refused to submit to the long hours and demoralising drudgery of the mills.  Owen wanted to change all this by improving working and living conditions.

This is the spinning machine.  It was operating while we were there to show how the spinning process had been automated.  This is one long machine that travels out from the wall about 5-6 feet as it twists the thread and then travels back as it winds the tread onto the bobbin.  Workers would walk along the machine to watch for broken threads.  Their task was to tie the thread to keep production moving.  Young children would crawl along under the moving machines to pick up the balls of cotton that fell off during the twisting process so it could be re-worked into production.

This is the visitor center now but was one of the mill buildings when it was in operation.

More houses, the one on the end was the house of Robert Owen.  Now some of the houses down along the river have been converted into a very nice upscale Hotel.

Owen’s greatest success was in the support of the young, to which he devoted special attention. He was the founder of infant childcare in Great Britain, especially in Scotland. He established schools for the children and would not allow them to work in the mill until they were eight years old.  He insisted that all the children were taught how to read and do math.


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