Sunday, 12 August 2012

New Lanark


How did a Cotton Mill owner come to be one of those who organised protests at the punishment of the Tolpuddle Martyrs?  During our stay at New Lanark we became intrigued by proto-socialist Robert Owen.  It turns out that he wasn't simply an elightened Mill owner but rather a social idealist who used his relatively isolated Mill to experiment in creating a more just community. His father-in-law had established the Mill where the Falls of Clyde provided natural energy.  Owen bought him out in 1800, later having Jeremy Bentham among others (this wasn't a Christian experiment) contribute to secure the investment.

He did things which he might not have been able to do if there were rival firms near by to put pressure on him - he reduced the workers hours, he provided schooling for their children (including the first Nursery School in the country, along with instructions that the children should have their natural curiosity satisfied and not be punished or rewarded), he maintained free medical care provision, and he provided a shop which was one of the the inspirations for the modern co-op movement.

So his mill, part of which is now developed into a hotel in a World Heritage Site, proved an unexpectedly intriguing place to stay, quiet apart from the pleasure of the rush of the Clyde beneath our window.  Owen wasn't unique and was in fact in part building on what his father-in-law had started.  His father-in-law was also behind the Blantyre Mill in which David Livingstone worked as a boy and young man, and, when we visited the museum around Livingstone's single room family home, we saw how Livingstone benefited from the education provided there including access to a significant library through which with astonishing self determination he prepared himself for medical school.    

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