The hustle and bustle of New Lanark as a working town of 2,500 people has gone. The movement to and from work, the barefoot children, the horses and carts, the washing lines, the gossip, the roar of machinery, the clang of the bell regulating the working day, and the constant hustle and bustle has all disappeared. The houses and ghosts remain, but their way of life has been recreated for visitors.
At New Buildings, below the bell-tower, a 1820s and a 1930s home are open to visitors. The tenement housing is three floors high with stonewalls, slate roofs, and wooden stairs. Each house consisted of a single room in which an entire family lived and slept. "Hurley" beds dragged out from beneath the built in box beds squeezed everybody in. Spring water came from public wells. Sewage went on public dung heaps and was removed by horse and cart. Owen introduced inspections of houses to ensure cleanness and expanded the living accommodation for large families.
Every single room had a large open fire, and it was around this that family life revolved. On the fire, water heated and food bought from the company store cooked in pots suspended over the flame. The fire needed constant attention to keep the room warm and pots hot. The range itself sparkled from frequent painting and polishing.
David Owen, the mill owner, developed a co-operative store - good quality goods bought in bulk and sold to the work people at near cost. The profits reinvested in the village benefited everybody. In 1923 the profit of £8,000 covered the cost of the new school. New Lanark’s store was an inspiring example of the success of the early co-operative movement.
In the far corner of the Village Square is the Village Store, which Robert Owen set up as part of his plan to improve the standard of living for his workers. Visitors can buy traditional goods and gifts within the store. The store was the inspiration for the famous Co-operative Movement. He also introduced a health fund – one sixtieth of the workers wages. For this they were entitled to the services of a doctor.
Overlooking the gardens in the center of the village is Robert Owen's House - a house with more rooms than people! It is partly furnished in the period of the day to show the home life of the mill owner.
Within one of the four original mills is a massive working 19th century spinning mule and other textile machinery showing the working place for the people of New Lanark. Work started at 6 a.m. and continued through to 6:30 p.m. The workers went home at meal times for something to eat.
In 1898 gas lighting used from 1851 gave way to hydroelectricity, one of the first public electricity lighting systems. Flushing water closets improved living and hygiene standards.
Around 180 people still live in the village in refurbished houses. Some historic buildings now serve as craft workshops. There is also a mill converted into the Mill Hotel and there is a Youth Hostel.
Opened in 1998 on the former site of Mill Number One, the New Lanark Mill Hotel makes a great base for would-be utopian students, travelers to the waist of Scotland - both Edinburgh and Glasgow are short rail journeys away - and naturalists who want to enjoy the beauty of the Falls of the Clyde. The original mill dated to 1785 and boasting three watermills kept some 558 people busy. The top two floors were removed in 1948 and the building eventually became derelict with further time. Eventually the mill was demolished and the hotel was erected on its site.
The hotel exterior architecture is completely in keeping with the other mill buildings and inside you find 38 very comfortable rooms which occupy the upper two of the five floors. Room windows overlook the river. A row of one and two-story buildings lie in front of the hotel and other mill buildings along the river. These have been converted into holiday apartments and are available as the Waterhouses.
There are some unique youth hostels in Scotland - i.e. an old whisky warehouse is used at Port Charlotte on Islay - and here in New Lanark is another example. Built as the Wee Row in 1795, this tenement block was converted to a youth hostel in 1994 and serves as the alternate overnight base for visitors as opposed to the New Lanark Mill Hotel. Folks that are walking the Clyde walkpath can also make use of the facility.
Finished in 2005, it is possible to walk from the Partick station in Glasgow (home to Partick Thistle, the forgotten third football team of Glasgow) all the way to New Lanark some 40 miles away. The most interesting part of the path is here around the Falls of the Clyde and New Lanark. A ten mile loop encompassing all four of the waterfalls - including the Stonebyres Linn which is downstream from New Lanark - is described in the Lonely Planet's Walking in Scotland, though most limit themselves to the section of the path from the village up to Bonnington Linn. One can cross over the dam above the falls and then come back downstream on the other side though that means you need to cross the river to get back to the New Lanark side downstream at Kirkfieldbank, halfway between New Lanark and Stonebyres Linn.
Immortalized in poetry by William Wordsworth and the subject of paintings by William Turner, the waterfalls consist of four waterfalls on the River Clyde. Most visitors visit the upper three falls being fairly close together - the fourth, Stonebyres Linn (linn is waterfall in Gaelic) is several miles downstream. Walking from New Lanark to the upper of the three falls is a little under two miles. The first falls is Dundaff Linn which is seen from the village at New Lanark. The next is the highest and most famous of all, Corra Linn. On the east bank above Corra Linn was the Pavilion also known as the Hall of Mirrors. Built early in the 18th century, the Pavilion had mirrors on its back walls which reflected the falls giving a visitor the illusion they were standing in the middle of waterfalls. There are only ruins left today. Across the river, hidden amongst the trees, but right on the bank is the ruins of the 15th century Corra Castle which is home to bats today. Corra Linn is the most dramatic of all the falls, but looks a bit smaller most of the time. Continuing upstream past a gorgeous gorge you finally come to Bonnington Linn lying just downstream of the Scottish Power dam that diverts much of the river's water away from the falls to the turbines. The power plant generates 11 megawatts and being built in 1927, was Scotland's first. There is another power plant downstream from Stonebyres Linn, as well.
This home was built for the original mill manager during the period when the mills were operated by David Dale. When Robert Owen brought his new wife Caroline here in 1799, it became their home. The home has several exhibits devoted to the family and their lives. The home next door was originally the home of David Dale - so it might have been familiar already to Caroline - but he used the home as more of a summer residence, preferring to live in Glasgow with all of its Big City attractions.
The Church above Owen's home was a later addition, being built late in the 19th century. Religious services were held at the mills in different locations. Religion, itself, was one of Owen's peeves as he didn't think much of it at the time he lived here. In some of his writings, his criticisms of organized religion lost him many would-be supporters. Somewhat incongruously then, Owen became quite a spiritualist near the end of his life in London. Next to the Church, like in most Scottish towns, there is a memorial to those men lost in the First World War.
Cotton-spinning machinery at New Lanark utilized water power to turn their wheels. New inventions in the late 18th century allowed raw cotton to be spun into useable thread in a much easier and faster procedure than was previous. New Lanark became one of the first true factories of the Industrial Revolution. Water from the Clyde was funneled through the huge water wheels in the mills, which, in turn, provided power to turn the cogwheels of the spinning frames and spinning jennies - both machines simple enough to operate for unskilled workers - ie children. Water still runs through the mill lade turning the big waterwheel which exists on the foundations of Mill Number Four. The mill lade also provides energy to turn a turbine in Mill Number Three giving electricity to much of today's New Lanark. To ensure a constant water supply through a potential dry summer, a small dam was built just upstream of the mills. Winter freezes could on occasion shut the mills down.
Water power has been harnessed in a more updated form in the 20th century with the building of a dam above the Falls of the Clyde. Some of the water is then channeled to a powerhouse downstream of the Falls, turning turbine wheels which generate power for Scotland's electrical grid. It is this concern which is responsible for the decreased show of power seen along the Falls of the Clyde today. For holidays, water is allowed to spill full force over the Falls again for the benefit of visitors.
Seven tenement blocks were built to house the mill's workers and their families. Five of the blocks have been restored and have either been converted to houses, rental apartments or in the case of the Wee Row - built 1795 - a youth hostel. About 200 people live in New Lanark today. Braxfield Row and the Long Row were restored by private individuals who bought the houses as shells. The Double Row - so-called because it contained back-to-back apartments - still remains empty and unrestored. Caithness Row - named after a town in the Highlands where many of the workers came from, the Nursery Building - built in 1809 for the orphan children working at the mill previously housed in Mill Number Four - and much of the New Buildings have been converted to rented apartment units. Strict codes exist to ensure a period look to the community - no satellite dishes or tv aerials; services are delivered through buried cables.
Built in 1798, the New Buildings were built as worker housing and an exhibits demonstrates what a working family's home might have looked like. The bell tower atop the building was used to ring workers to the mills, but today is used to ring at midnight of the last day of the year. There are several apartments in the building still rented out to some of the 200 people that still call New Lanark 'home'.
One year after the Institute was opened, this three story school became the first dedicated school for working class children in Scotland - 1817. Children attended class here fulltime from the age of six to ten. After ten, the children went to work in the mills, though many continued to attend evening classes also held here. Today, the school is home to several exhibits which help demonstrate what a New Lanark education meant.
The Institute for the Formation of Character, sounding like something out of '1984' or the old 'The Prisoner' television series, was opened in 1816. The building served Owen's revolutionary attempt to pre-shape children who lived and worked at the mills by improving their environment and giving them a rudimentary education. Britain's first infant school - known in the US as a preschool - was originally to have been a multi-use building including a storage cellar, a school, lecture hall, church, eating/exercise room and a public kitchen. The Institute was a popular stop with visitors who could observe the children in their dancing and singing classes from a upper gallery. Today, the Institute is still forming character, but as the Visitor Centre for today's New Lanark. Adjacent to the Institute is the Engine House, built in 1881. It contains a restored steam engine, which was the next step in power generation for the mills from water power.
Fire was always a worry in a cotton mill. Mill Number One burnt very early into its operations, in 1786, though it was quickly rebuilt and online again by 1789. Mill Number Four was built in 1791 and was initially used as a storehouse and dormitory for 275 working orphans. This mill burnt down in 1883 and was not rebuilt. A waterwheel - not original to New Lanark - was installed here in 1990 to give visitors some idea of how water power was used in the mills.
Mill Two was built in 1788 and its three waterwheels kept 486 people employed. There is a large gift shop - The Yarn Shop - is on the second floor with the upper floors devoted to the "New Lanark Experience" - a disneyesque adventure into New Lanark's past, complete with talking holograms - ghosts - and a ride - the "Millennium Experience" - where you go time traveling.
Mill Three was built around 1790 and employed 398 people. Inside, a water turbine generates power for parts of today's New Lanark. There is a gift shop and a cafeteria on the lower floors and the upper parts are also part of the "New Lanark Experience" with a sky bridge incongruously linking the mill with the visitor center complex.
This was a wonderful, bright school room. All of the children who lived at New Lanark were required to attend school until the age of 10 or 12 and then could continue for a couple more years if their families allowed. The children wore uniforms. There is a good interpretive exhibit on the school and what the children were taught and the activities they participated in.
It is a lovely place to walk around - the grounds are nice and immaculate and it is right on the River Clyde. You can hike to the Falls of Clyde and have a nice picnic.