The new Lanark cotton mills were first founded by Glaswegian aristocrat David Dale in 1786.
Dale’s son-in-law, Robert Owen, was involved in a £60,000 deal in the early 1800s that bought the mills from his father-in-law. Owen, a prominent figure of social reform, continued with Dale’s goodhearted approach to industrial working life.
Around 2,500 people, mostly from Glasgow and Edinburgh poorhouses, lived in the village during Owen’s years. The mill’s living quarters weren’t bleak by any means, but Owen sought to improve them greatly.
He spent a considerable amount of time improving the lives of some 500 children who lived in new Lanark and in 1816 he opened Britain’s first infant school.
Water was New Lanark’s main source of power. A dam was built on the Clyde atop the cotton mills, with the water gathered powering New Lanark’s machinery. Water wheels were originally used, but these were later replaced by water turbines in the early 20th century. Water is still used to power parts of modern New Lanark.
The cotton mills enjoyed a huge amount of commercial success, however Owen’s business partners were discontented with the added cost of his welfare programmes. Regression to the old ways was not an option for Owen, so he bought out his partner’s shares and became the sole owner of New Lanark.
Many prominent European royals, politicians and reformers gained wift of the villages’s social success as word-of-mouth spread fast throughout the continent. Upon visiting the cotton mills most were bewildered at the sight of a clean, vigorous industrial setting complete with a happy, energetic workforce and a thriving, profitable business model, all in the same place.
Owen’s methods were contradictory to the standards of his time, but he proved that treating a workforce well results ultimately in better business and a more positive outlook for all involved. .
In 1825 ownership of New Lanark was passed to the Walker family. The Walkers ran the mills much like Owen did until 1881when they sold it to Birkmyre and Sommerville. They stayed in control of the mills until 1968 when the mills were eventually closed down
Following this residents began to move away from the mills and deterioration struck at some of the buildings, but in 1963 the New Lanark Association was founded as a housing association and began the restoration of various buildings.
New Lanark is now controlled by the New Lanark Conservation Trust and has become one of Scotland’s foremost tourist attractions.