Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Failed Utopia

As the River Clyde leaves the southern uplands, it turns East for a time below Tinto Hill and then makes a u-turn heading toward Lanark under the Hyndford bridge. The river then throws itself into a steep-sided gorge for about a mile and a half. Using the power of the Clyde an “English- man helped a Glaswegian lay the foundation for an industrial bonanza which awaited the development of Lanarkshire’s most beautiful and spectacular location.”

Seeing the huge potential of the rushing water, Robert Arkwright, together with Glasgow banker David Dale, purchased the land along the Clyde. Here, they built the largest cotton mills in Britain and began the “greatest single industrial adventure Scotland had ever witnessed.”

Within two years Arkwright had departed and David Dale was left alone to finish the project. He erected the cotton mills, built dye-works and workshops. In addition, he built a school, shops and accommodations, so that a real community could develop. Wages were low, but the benefits for the community were greater than those normally given. Workers could buy food, clothing and other articles at cost from the company store. Children were encouraged to attend local schools and free medical services were provided. Housing was also available at a modest cost and garden space was near.

Many of the “shattered Highlanders, victims of the Clearances” made their way to New Lanark seeking employment. But, the work was best suited for the young. Dale needed “quick, supple and nimble fingers” to do his work. “Many orphans found desperation converted to hope and future security solely as a consequence of their inclusion in this 18th century Clydesdale revolution.” They worked 13 hours a day at the mill, with a half hour off for breakfast and three quarters of an hour for the noon meal. In 1810 the work time was reduced to 12 hours.  David Dale was treated as a hero and was very popular with his employees.

Unlike many factories across Britain this was not a sweat-shop. Workers were paid fairly for their labor. David Dale was a kind man. “He strove not only to manufacture a quality end product but also to bond his 1200 strong community and create a kindred spirit among them. Undoubtedly, he succeeded in doing just that.”

Gradually Robert Owen changed his ideas about man in society. He sought to secure shorter working hours and better working conditions through legislation in Parliament. These efforts proved largely fruitless and over time he became convinced that society itself was in need of drastic change. He concluded that marriage, the church, and the institution of private property were roadblocks to the establishment of a new society. He believed that man’s character was determined by him through his environment, not by personal endeavors alone.

Robert Owen met many of America’s leaders as he began the process of building his new society. At New York, Philadelphia and Washington he had discussions with important leaders in business, culture and politics. He met with Presidents James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Gen. Andrew Jackson. He spoke twice to the House of Representatives in Washington D.C.

Soon, Robert Owen would buy an entire village and call it New Harmony, Indiana. It cost $125,000, had approximately 180 structures and included 30,000 acres of land. It is important to note that Owen invested his own money in the purchase of New Harmony, Indiana.

The community failed in less than 3 years and Robert Owen returned to Scotland on May 1,1827.

In the mid-20th century, the cotton industry was in steep decline as artificial textiles became popular. In 1967, no buyer could be found for the derelict buildings and so New Lanark died. Conservationists began to work at saving and restoring the buildings. “Now it is once again a thriving community, where heritage and private accommodations happily cohabit and to which thousands travel each year to enjoy and wonder at the reinstatement of one of Scotland’s greatest ever industrial and social miracles.”

They still celebrate their Scottish heritage each year on August 2. There is much more to the story and I hope this article will interests some of you to do more research. It would make a great trip for the History Club but would require an overnight stay.

 (Information for this article were taken liberally from two books: Scottish Enterprises, Millennium Images of Scotland by Donald Ford and New Harmony, Indiana: Robert Owen’s Seedbed for Utopia by Donald F. Carmony and Josephine H. Elliott)

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

No comments:

Post a Comment