|New Lanark Case Study
Many working children did not have the opportunity to go to school, but at New Lanark it was very different. Robert Owen believed that children should go to school instead of working. He thought that your environment formed your character. In other words, the sort of person you grew up to be depended on the way you were brought up, your education and living conditions. The most important factor being education of course!
Mr Owen decided to build places for learning for the people of New Lanark. He built the Institute for the Formation of Character and a School for Children. We might call the Institute a community education centre today.
It was described as "a spacious schoolhouse with five large rooms or halls, besides smaller apartments, and a bathroom on an extensive scale!"
In these buildings, there were classrooms for the day school and evening classes, with a nursery for the youngest children, which was like a modern playgroup. This was the first nursery in the world! There was a playground outside, and a library. There were weekly concerts and dancing lessons too. Children were even given baths and haircuts! Adults were also encouraged to learn to read and write as well.
As soon as children could walk they would start going to the Institute Nursery. The teachers were very nice people and Mr Owen told them that "on no account ever to beat any one of the children or threaten them ... but they were always to speak to them with a pleasant countenance, and in a kind manner and tone of voice." The children were also taught to be kind to each other and try their best to make each other happy. The older ones were taught to take special care to help the younger children. Co-operation!
Mr Owen knew that it was easier to learn if lessons were interesting and fun, so classrooms had large brightly coloured pictures and maps on the walls, and there was lots of singing, dancing and music. You didn't just learn reading, writing and arithmetic, but history, art, geography and nature study too.
"The dress worn by the children in the day school, both boys and girls, is composed of strong white cotton cloth, of the best quality that can be procured. It is formed in the shape of the Roman tunic, and reaches in the boys' dresses to the knee, and in those of the girls, to the ankle. These dresses are changed 3 times a week, so that they may be perfectly clean and neat."
New Lanark Case Study
When the mills were first built by David Dale he also built homes for the millworkers. Living in New Lanark was very different from life in the dirty towns and cities. Although it was a mill village, millworkers could enjoy fresh air, the countryside around them and good quality homes to live in.
When Robert Owen took over as mill manager at New Lanark in 1800, he thought that some of the residents of the village were not very well behaved. He thought that people should respect their homes and their community and so, to put things right, he drew up a long list of rules for the residents of the village.
The villagers had inspections from a committee to make sure that the rules were kept. The women of the village were a little angry at first and nicknamed them the Bug Hunters! Eventually everyone got used to the idea, and they found that life was more comfortable and it was healthier to live in clean and tidy houses. Soon, things improved and the village was considered a model community!
To build up a picture of life in New Lanark 200 years ago, we have to rely on evidence like documents people wrote at the time or old household items that have survived. We don't have any photographs of what a home in the early 1800s looked like inside because photography as we know it hadn't been invented yet!
Life then, was very difficult for most working people. Not only was the work in the mills noisy, dirty and dangerous, but also everyday chores took lots of time and effort because there were no machines like vaccuum cleaners or washing machines to help.
At this time, it was common for many people to live in a single room! This was called a single end. Look at the plan of a typical tenement home in New Lanark. Two separate families would have lived in the two single ends shown in the plan. This could mean that as many as 20 people lived in this small space! The difference was, that in New Lanark, the homes were well-kept, clean and affordable.
Cooking was done over the coal fire, with pots hanging from a swee above the flame. The coal fire was very important as it also provided heating for the home. The only problem was, that a coal fire produces lots of dust and soot, and it can't be quickly turned on or off like our modern gas fires or radiators!
There was no running water in the houses. Any water families needed had to be carried in from outside, where there were springs and wells. There was no toilet indoors either. People had to use the privies found at various points throughout the village. Baths were only taken about once a week and everyone in the house shared the same bath water and remember families of around 12 lived in the same room!
There wouldn't be alot of furniture in single-ends. Families would have a chest or kist, a table and some stools or creepies, and there would be two set-in beds fitted in the room. Underneath each set-in bed you would find a hurlie bed which was a bed on wheels. The mattresses were made of a simple cotton ticking and were stuffed with straw or chaff, whilst blankets were woollen. Two or three people would usually share each bed.
The Mill Manager's home was very different to the workers' houses. It was much more luxurious, although it was unusual for a mill owner to live on site like Robert Owen did. As Annie McLeod would tell you, "imagine living somewhere with more rooms than people!" You can visit a Millworker's Home and Robert Owen's House today.
The most highly paid workers at the mills were the skilled men like stone masons and millwrights, mechanics and engineers. In 1801 millwrights earned up to 14 shillings and thrupence (3 pence) a week while a stonemason might earn 10 shillings a week. Wages at New Lanark were not very high compared to other mills, but the people of New Lanark had many other benefits, even if they didn't earn the highest wages in the industry. Can you think what some of these benefits were?
Another really important change that Robert Owen made was establishing a village store, where workers could buy good quality items at low prices. The new store opened in 1813. When Mr Owen first arrived in New Lanark, he found that there were traders in the village, but they sold:
" inferior articles [poor quality], highly adulterated [tampered with], at enormous prices [cost alot] ... and their butcher's meat was generally little better than skin and bone. Many of the workers are in debt for simply affording food supplies, but also spirits!"
The idea at his store was fair prices and a fair deal for all - fair trade in the 19th century! Robert Owen bought fresh produce in bulk so he could pass on the savings to his workers and only charge a fair price for items in the store. Workers could pay for their goods with the tokens or tickets for wages they earned from the mill. They could go elsewhere if they wished, but their wages went further at the Mill Store. There was also a loyalty scheme where workers could get money back if they continued to shop at the store. This was called a dividend.