New Lanark

South Lanarkshire

"New Buildings", New Lanark
©2023 Gazetteer for Scotland

Lying a half-mile (1 km) S of Lanark in a beautiful setting on the banks of the River Clyde, New Lanark is remarkable. Visitors descending into the picturesque gorge will be astonished to find a complete 18th C. industrial village, managed and preserved by the New Lanark Preservation Trust and now designated a World Heritage Site. It had lain forgotten and unloved after the mills closed in 1967 and was almost demolished in the 1970s.

In 1784, Glasgow textiles entrepreneur David Dale (1739 - 1806) and industrial spinning pioneer Richard Arkwright, identified the location as ideal for industrial development, with an excellent head of water to power cotton mills. They purchased the site from local land-owner Lord Braxfield (1722-99), the notorious 'hanging judge'. By 1793, Dale had built four mills, making New Lanark the largest industrial complex of its time, together with housing and a school. 1157 people worked in the village, of whom 70% were children, drawn from village families and orphanages as far afield as Glasgow and Edinburgh. Dale was noted for his humane treatment of these orphans, remarkable for the time. They were well-fed and clothed, and good standards of hygiene were maintained.

In 1799, Robert Owen (1771 - 1858) purchased New Lanark and built on Dale's foundation to create a community where education and social justice were pre-eminent. Owen became a celebrity and he and New Lanark attracted thousands of visitors every year, coming from around the world, including other mill owners interested in what Dale and Owen had achieved. Dorothy Wordsworth came with her brother William in 1803 and described the mills as "largest and loftiest I had ever seen" in her diary. Other visitors included Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia (1816), Archduke Maximilian of Austria (1818), Robert Dundas (1758 - 1819), Lord Advocate of Scotland, who admired New Lanark's "well-regulated and docile population". Reforming visitors included Rev. Dr. Henry Duncan (1774 - 1846), Rev. Dr. Thomas Chalmers (1780 - 1847) and American educationalist John Griscom (1774 - 1852).

Today, New Lanark is no stale museum; it is a living community of around 150 people, with new craft industries and small businesses attracted by the Trust. Housing is a mixture of owner-occupation and rented. Strict controls preserve the external character of the buildings but, internally, several old one or two roomed flats have been consolidated to form fully-modernised contemporary dwellings.

In addition to a Visitor Centre, shop, mill-workers' house and Robert Owen's house, which form the main tourist attractions, the Preservation Trust created and runs a sizeable modern hotel (a conversion of one of the old mills), self-catering cottages and a youth hostel. The Trust also produces woollen yarn for the home-knitting market, administers the 45 rented properties in the village on a not-for-profit basis and profits from a small hydro-electric power station located in the basement of the New Lanark Visitor Centre.

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