New Lanark Kids

Victorian Life at New Lanark

Nearly two thousand people worked in the New Lanark mills during early Victorian times. The village was alive with noise- the clattering of the mill machinery, the gushing of the river, and children laughing in the playground. Here you can learn about life at New Lanark, and beyond, during Victorian times. Read on to find out what the housing was like, and the sort of games children played.

Mill Workers House 1820Explore a millworker’s house.

Here is a millworker’s house at New Lanark in the early Victorian times.

Click here to explore the millworkers house.

Lots of hard work!

Many of the millworkers were women and children. What a long and tiring day they had. In Victorian days it was not unusual to see children in all sorts of jobs- chimney sweeps, mine workers and factory workers.

Living Conditions

The 1800s were a time when Scotland's industrial areas grew rapidly. People moved to the towns and cities to find work. They often had to move to areas that were already overcrowded. The worst areas became known as "slums". Tenements with two rooms would often accommodate families of 12 people! Diseases spread easily in these areas. People had still not made the link between good hygiene and sanitation, and good health.

The houses at New Lanark were also built one on top of the other, like the tenements of the city. This was unusual for a rural area. However, New Lanark was not dirty, and polluted like the cities. One reason for this was that New Lanark was dependent on water power, which is a clean source of energy. The houses and streets were also well-kept. This had been something that Robert Owen had encouraged. He wrote a list of rules and regulations for the inhabitants of New Lanark. He employed a committee to go round the houses to inspect them, and make sure people were following the rules. This committee became known as "The Bug Hunters". This helped to keep the village a clean and healthy place to live. Although the houses were small, they were comfortable, and a good community spirit existed, which still survives today.

Building BlocksToy shops and spinning tops

Boats, balls, train sets and toy soldiers were popular with boys in Victorian days. Girls may have played with dolls, embroidery sets and model shops. Rich children had a better choice of games and tended to stay indoors and play in their nurseries. In New Lanark, the houses were small and children were sent outside to play, where they used their imagination to invent shops, houses and other games.

Memories of childhood.

"You hear a lot of people talking about the good old summer days when we ran about in our bare feet. So did we, but it was because we’d to save our boots for winter. It wasn’t because we liked our bare feet - We played at skipping ropes - We played at peevers on the pavement, but you’d to clean it all off when you were finished playing peevers."
From New Lanark’s Oral History Archive.

Find out what the game of "peevers" is now known as. Have a go in your school playground.

ScrapsScraps were very popular in Victorian days.

You can still buy them in the New Lanark Village Store today. The scraps would be collected in a book, and swapped amongst friends.

School Days

In the early Victorian times, education provision in Scotland was poor. Richer families sent their children to fee-paying schools or had them tutored at home. Some children attended Sunday Schools, and others the local parish school if there was one.

ChalkboardNew Lanark had two school buildings as early as 1817, long before other places in Scotland. In fact the infant school was the first of its type in the world. Robert Owen wanted to offer education to all of the villagers, young and old. You can find out more about education at New Lanark in the Robert Owen section.

By the end of the Victorian period, most primary-school aged children in Scotland were now attending school. Lessons and classes were quite different from yours. Most schools focused solely on reading, writing and arithmetic. Teachers were strict, and physical punishment was used if children were misbehaving, or could not complete their work. All pupils sat in rows, and wrote on slates.

Village Life

This photograph of the New Lanark villagers dates back to around 1890.

The people are in their work clothes. The women are wearing aprons over their dresses, and shawls.

Look and see what all the boys are wearing on their heads.

Can you spot the children with a gird ‘n’ cleek in their hands?

A Victorian Washhouse

Victorian WashhouseThe Millworkers Exhibition at New Lanark also has a washhouse exhibition. Look at the picture and see the woman doing her washing.

The washhouses were built in the basements of the houses at New Lanark. Doing the washing in the Victorian times was a long and tiring job, as you can see from the list of tasks below:

A time for change

During the Victorian times many changes took place. There were new inventions and new discoveries. Some of these, such as the development of steam power, caused changes in industry. Others, such as the development of the railways, allowed people to travel greater distances and go on holiday.

If you visit the Millworkers House exhibition at New Lanark you can see two houses. One is a reconstruction of an 1820s house, and shows you what it would be like to live in New Lanark just before the Victorian times. The other is a reconstruction of a 1930s millworkers house, just after the Victorian times. By comparing the two houses you can see some of the changes that took place in the home during the Victorian period.

1820s Millworkers House 1930s Millworkers House
Outdoor Toilet
Hurlie Beds
Set-in beds
Table and chairs
Candles and whale oil lamps
Bucket and broom
Toilet on landing (shared with neighbours)
Sink with cold tap
Sewing machine
Electric Light
Oven and Stove
Set-in beds in bedroom and living room
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