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New Lanark

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New Lanark, 1987
New Lanark

New Lanark is situated next to the River Clyde about one and a half miles west of the town of Lanark and is one of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland, a status awarded on December 14, 2001. It is a surviving 18th century cotton mill, constructed in 1786 by David Dale and his son in law Robert Owen, who later took full ownership.

Robert Owen was a well known social reformer of his day and developed New Lanark according to his principles. He built up-to-date housing for his workers and their families, and although the houses had no internal water supply or sanitation, by the standards of the times they were well appointed. A single cold water tap was eventually installed in each property in the 1920s. The mill site was originally chosen because of the abundant supply of water power provided by the River Clyde, and a lade (reservoir) was installed for this purpose, formed behind a weir constructed in the river to the south of the village.

Owen built an infant school in 1816, and provided a library for the education of his workers. Up to 2,550 people lived at the mill at this time.

Owen left New Lanark in 1824, after which his position was taken over by Charles and Henry Walker, sons of one of Owen's Quaker partners, John Walker. For the next 50 years the Walkers continued to run the village and its mills much as Owen would have done.

The population of New Lanark peaked around the mod 1800s, after which it began to decline. In 1861, a single-room dwelling in New Buildings was home to a couple, their four children, a sister-in-law and two lodgers.

In 1881, the Birkmyre family and Henry Birkmyre, who owned The Gourock Ropemaking Company, took over New Lanark, retaining ownership until 1968 when the business closed. He, and his successors, understood why New Lanark had been so successful and sought to maintain the social patterns that underpinned that success. They diversified the activities at New Lanark, and introduced weaving. Cotton thread was spun in the mills, then woven into canvas which was transported to Port Glasgow for finishing, either with a wax based proofing, or latterly coated with PVC. Other products to emerge included deck chair covers, canvas for a range of military uses, and even the material for the big top of Bertram Mills Circus, with the mill workers being given concessionary tickets when the circus came to Lanark.

Production of ropes and fishing nets was also introduced, with workers and their families being brought in from Ireland and the Isle of Man to add their skills and cultures to those already present in the village.

The mills continued to depend on the power of the River Clyde over the years, although the water wheels were eventually replaced by more efficient water turbines which remained in working use working until 1929. Auxiliary steam power was introduced during the 1880s.

Although not in the same vein as Robert Owen, the Birkmyres were also social reformers, and made gifts of parks and a hospital in Port Glasgow. They installed free electrical lighting to all the houses at New Lanark in 1898, with the power coming from a water turbine in the complex. The output was low and each house had one dim bulb, with a supply which was cut off at 10 pm on weekdays and 11 pm on Saturday. Human nature being what it is, the villagers caused all sorts of problems as they tapped into the supply to power radios and other appliances, and the network was eventually connected to the National Grid in 1955.

In 1933, the houses were fitted with kitchen sinks and a cold water tap, and the same year saw the old communal outside toilets being replaced with "stairheid cludgies" - WCs, water closets, or flushing toilets on the landings (in a tiny room, not on the landing itself!)

A housing association was formed in 1963 to refurbish the homes in Caithness Row and Nursery Buildings, but work came to a halt when the Gourock Ropemaking Company announced the final closure of the mills and the loss of the last 350 jobs in 1968.

The mills lay vacant until 1970 when they were acquired by Metal Extraction Ltd, a business which extracted aluminium from scrap metal. At that point, the village became little more than a scrap yard, while the new business created few jobs or opportunities. The population was then reported to have fallen to just 80.


The importance of this site to the social history of Scotland could not be overlooked, and in 1975 the New Lanark Conservation Trust was set up and the site became a museum. Had this failed, the the site would probably have been demolished, or abandoned completely, and left to become derelict. Housing on the site was redeveloped over the next 30 years, and the "Wee Row" was converted into a 60 bed youth hostel. Much of the remaining housing was converted into 45 housing association tenancies and 20 owner-occupied houses, and Mill 1 has become a hotel. Rebuilt to its original height, it became the New Lanark Mill Hotel. Robert Owen's school building was also restored, having lost part of its roof and become derelict in the 1970s.

The resident population of New Lanark also grew over that time and came to exceed 200, while space within the restored mill complex was used to house various businesses which support more than 100 jobs.

These changes combined to form an attraction which draws some 500,000 visitors each year, an achievement which saw New Lanark being recognised worldwide when it was accorded World Heritage Status on December 14, 2001. An estimated 500,000 visitors continue to make the journey down to the restored village each year

Falls of Clyde

The Falls of Clyde is the collective name for four linns (waterfalls) on the River Clyde near New Lanark. The Falls of Clyde comprise the upper falls of Bonnington Linn, Corra Linn, Dundaff Linn, and the lower falls of Stonebyres Linn. Bonnington Linn, Corra Linn and Dundaff Linn lie above New Lanark and within the Falls of Clyde Reserve which is managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, a national nature conservation charity. Stonebyres Linn lies several miles downstream from the reserve and New Lanark.

Bonnington Linn

Bonnington Linn is a waterfall 11 metres (36 ft) high situated approximately one mile (1.5 km) upstream of New Lanark, and, along with Corra Linn, provides the source of water for the hydro-electric Bonnington Power Station.

Corra Linn

Corra Linn is a spectacular waterfall 28 metres (92 ft) high which lies about half a mile (1 km) upstream of New Lanark, and, along with Bonnington Linn, provides the source of water for the hydro-electric Bonnington Power Station.

Corra Linn was a popular subject for landscape painters, including a work by English artist JMW Turner in 1802.

Normally little more than a trickle because the river water is drawn off to serve the power station, for approximately five days between April and October each year, usually including Easter, agreed Waterfall Days are held when the gates to station are closed and Corra Linn is allowed to run in spate, forming a popular sight for visitors.

Bonnington Power Station

A hydro-electric power station is situated between Corra Linn and Dundaff Linn, with a water inlet at Bonnington Linn. This plant was built in 1927 and was the first hydro-electric power station in Scotland, and generates approximately 11 MW from a total head of 51 metres (167 ft).

Together with Stonebyres Power Station approximately two miles (3 km) west of Lanark, and which takes its water from above Stonebyres Linn, a head of 30 metres (98 ft) generating approximately 5 MW, the two station form the Lanark Hydro-Electric Scheme operated by ScottishPower.


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