Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 4, 2011

New Lanark

Whenever something is named “New” you can’t but help wonder what was wrong with the old? In this particular case, New Lanark has been called an early 1800’s social experiment by Robert Owen. Having bought the cotton mill from his father-in-law, he set about forming a self contained village, providing work at the mill, shops, and around the village, paying fair wages, providing housing, health care, and something revolutionary for the period – compulsory, free education for children (optional for adults). It wasn’t just reading, writing, and arithmetic that he thought was important, but song, dance, and other art forms as well. He believed that education was the key to eliminating poverty and crime. In addition he was an advocate for women’s rights and helped form some of the first trade unions and co-operatives to ensure fair wages and safe working conditions. His ideas made him quite a revolutionary, attracting as many followers as detractors.

New Lanark still houses a working mill, now producing wool instead of cotton, with machinery and workers on display as part of the tour. The mill and probably the entire village get their energy through hydroelectric power generated by the Clyde River. The entrance fee also includes a ride through an exhibit called The Annie MacLeod Experience – the story of the mill and Robert Owen as told by a 10 year old girl from the 1820’s.

Robert Owen tried to establish a similar village in New Harmony, Indiana, but since he wasn’t there to oversee the entire project, and human nature being what it is, squabbling among the overseers ended it before it could really begin. While it may have been too utopian and socialistic, there are certain tenets of his vision that have merit, even today.

Regardless of his ideas, it’s a beautiful place to visit, with lush green parklands all around. It’s not for the faint of heart, though, unless you’re staying at the hotel. It is a hike down (and back up) from the car park, but there are great views of the Clyde falls and the surrounding countryside that are definitely worth the trip.

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