New Lanark Kids

The Mill Workers

Here you can learn all about working life in New Lanark. Find out what the workers wore, what wages they earned, and how villagers were haunted by the ghost of a previous worker!

Did you know that at one time New Lanark was Britain's largest producer of cotton yarn?

Work, Work, Work.

Some of New Lanark's earliest workers were orphans from Glasgow and Edinburgh's poorhouses. They lived above mill four in dormitories, and worked in return for their food, clothing and a bed for the night. It was a long, tiring day in the mills for these young "pauper apprentices" (as they were known), but at least it was better than being in the poorhouses.

Here is a typical day of a pauper apprentice:

5.30am 6am 9-9.30am 9.30-2pm 2-3pm 3-7pm 7-9pm 9pm
Get up, wash, dress Start work Breakfast Work Dinner break Work Supper and lessons Bed

The Highlanders at New Lanark

When David Dale first established New Lanark he needed a large workforce to come and work in the mills. There was not a large population living locally, and many people did not want to work in mills because of the long hours and hard work. David Dale looked further a field. He knew many people were leaving the Highland in search of work in the towns and decided to try and encourage them to come to New Lanark. Many of them accepted, and settled in New Lanark. Caithness Row in the village is named after the large number of people who came from that part of Scotland to live in New Lanark.

Annie's work.

Annie McLeod is a "piecer". This means she has to run between the spinning machines to tie the threads that have broken. Here she tells us of her work in the mills. The year is 1820:

"I started work in the mills when I was ten- its no' a bad place to work. The cotton we buy comes from places like America and Egypt - I wonder what these faraway places are like!

I work at the spinning machines where I join the broken threads. Oh, you have to take care, cause the machines dinnae stop for no-one!

Each day it gets so hot and dusty in the mill, and the cotton dust sticks to my throat. But I've made good friends in the mill- we aye play together on a Sunday. I think New Lanark's a good place to live."

Accidents in the mills.

Watch out! Work in the mills could be quite dangerous. Old factory records, and stories told by workers, allow us to find out about some of the accidents which occurred at New Lanark.

Here are some examples:

How much were the workers paid?

Here are extracts from the Statement of Wages at New Lanark, 1885.

Read the table and answer the questions below:

Mechanics' Department
Engineers: J Richie 28 shillings per week
  J Thomson 26 shillings per week
3rd year - 9shillings, 4th year - 10 shillings, 5th year - 11 shillings per week
Blacksmith Templeton 26 shillings per week
Joiner R Kirkhope 24 shillings per week
Gas man C Hislop 18 shillings per week
Spinners 460 spindles and up 10 shillings per week
  350 spindles and up 8 shillings per week
  250 spindles and up 4 shillings per week


  1. What was the highest paid job of those shown in the box?
  2. Aggie was an apprentice in her fourth year. What was her pay?
  3. What was the gas man's name ? Did he earn more than 20 shillings a week?
  4. Jenny operates 400 spindles. What would she have earned?

Answers at the bottom of the page.

What would a mill worker wear?

Mill WorkerThe women mill workers wore bare feet in the mills, with a dress (or skirt and blouse), and apron on top. Work was hot and dusty, so bare feet kept them cool. Work clothes were more ordinary than weekend clothes.

It was not until the 1930s and 1940s that it became "acceptable" and fashionable for women to wear trousers. Even then they would still have worn a dress or skirt to work. Long hair was tied back. Why would the mill girls have to wear their hair tied back?

Baggy trousers, a shirt, a waistcoat or jacket, and a cap would have been a typical male worker's outfit in the mills.

Here is a mill worker (left). Note her bare feet.

The education room at New Lanark has a dressing-up hamper of old clothes for children to try on.

Haunted mills?

GhostYes its true! New Lanark is a hotspot for ghosts. They have been seen by residents, workers, and visitors to the village. This ghost story was told for the oral history archive .

A young boy named Allan lived above the family store in New Buildings. One evening Allan’s parents and sister had gone to visit his gran, leaving him on his own in the house.

He had woken from his sleep feeling strangely cold. He looked up to see the figure of a woman sitting at his window. She was knitting, and her hands were working very fast. She had a Highland cape wrapped around her shoulders. She stopped knitting and looked up at Allan, who froze. She then stood up, moved across the room, and passed straight through the closed bedroom door.

When Allan’s parents arrived home he told them what he had seen. They assured him he must have been dreaming. However, it was years later before Allan’s sister admitted that she too had seen the very same figure in the house. She hadn’t wanted to tell Allan at the time in case it frightened him.

The flat that Allan’s family had lived in was once the doctors surgery. Could this woman have died in the surgery, and then come back to visit those living there years later? Was she one of the Highlanders who had moved to the village? Who knows?

A picture for you to colour!Click for a bigger version

Answers to the questions about wages:

  1. The engineers were highest paid
  2. She would have earned 10 shillings a week
  3. C Hislop. He only earned 18 shillings a week
  4. 8 shillings a week for 400 spindles

How did you do? Well done if you got 4/4!

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