The founders of New Lanark were David Dale, a Glasgow banker and entrepreneur, and Richard Arkwright, the inventor and pioneer of industrial cotton spinning. Their partnership dissolved after only a year but Dale continued to run new Lanark for another 15 years, establishing a philanthropic tradition which was further developed by subsequent owners.
Early Life & Background
Dale was born on 6th January, 1739, the son of William Dale, a poor grocer from Stewarton in Ayrshire, and his wife Anne. Dale served as a weaver's apprentice in Paisley and from there, aged 24, moved to Glasgow where he set up as a textile merchant. This proved a lucrative market to enter and 20 years of ensuing prosperity, including becoming a burgher of Glasgow and a member of the Merchant Guild and Trades House, culminated in Dale’s appointment as the first Glasgow agent for the Royal Bank. Dale also became interested in manufacturing and in the space of three years, set up a Turkey-red dyeworks at Dalmarnock and cotton mills in Catrine, Blantyre and, of course, New Lanark. Dale was active in the foundation of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and was elected a magistrate of the city of Glasgow in 1791 and 1794.
David Dale's House on Charlotte Street, Glasgow
During his time in Glasgow, Dale acquired a well-connected wife, Anne Carolina Campbell, the daughter of John Campbell, an Edinburgh Director of the Royal Bank. Dale and Anne purchased a house in Charlotte Street, Glasgow- designed by Robert Adam, one of the best known architects of the day- and had at least six children: Anne Caroline- who went on to marry Robert Owen, William, Jean Maxwell, Margaret, Mary and Julia Johnston.
Philanthropy and Religion
Glasgow Royal Infirmary c. 1812
Looking at his business interests, there can be no doubt that David Dale was a rich man, but he was also deeply religious, with a concern for philanthropy, education and the welfare of his workers. In the 1760s, in protest at the system of ecclesiastical partonage, he left the Church of Scotland and became a founder member of the strongly missionary Old Scotch Independent church. Dale also provided philanthropic support to various causes, including the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Town Hospital, the Royal Infirmary, Bridewell prisoners, Calton charity school, the Andersonian Institution and the Humane Society.
Dale was also deeply opposed to the Transatlantic slave trade and was chairman of the Glasgow Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Abolition of the slave trade should not be confused with abolition of slavery, on which Dale took a very gradual approach. It is possible he took this approach in order to maintain support for his work and not to alienate the Glasgow business community. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, just one year after Dale's death. While the slave trade had ended in British colonies, plantation slavery still existed.
Concerned at the volume of emigration form Scotland, much of which was linked to the Highland Clearances, Dale established cotton mills in places as far apart as Oban, Stanley in Perthshire and Spinningdale in Sutherland. Spinningdale, the most conspicuously philanthropic of these ventures, was established with the specific intention to create industry, wealth and employment in the Highlands.
Other business and philanthropic ventures aside, it is possibly New Lanark for which Dale is best remembered. Dale was viewed as a kind and paternalistic manager by his workers, for whom he provided good quality, clean housing. In 1791, 'The Fortune', a ship sailing from Skye to North Carolina, was forced into Greenock by storms. On hearing of this, Dale sent a representative to offer employment to the would-be-migrants, which over 100 took up. The working day was long, beginning at 6am and finishing at 7pm with only half an hour for breakfast and an hour for dinner but the food provided was excellent by the standards of the day. Breakfast was as much porridge as the spinners could eat and dinner was often barley broth with 'good fresh beef, cheese or, in season, herrings and potatoes.
Dale also employed children as part of his workforce- 800 young people, including orphans or 'pauper apprentices', of a workforce of 1157 in 1793- but they were well cared for by the standards of the day. In 1796, Dale reported to the Manchester Board of Health that his dormitories accommodated 396 boys and girls: There are six sleeping apartments for them, and three children are allowed to each bed. The ceilings and walls of the apartments are whitewashed twice a year with hot lime and the floors are washed with scalding water and sand. The children sleep on wooden-bottomed beds on bed ticks filled with straw which is in general changed once a month. A sheet covers the bed ticks and above that there are one or two pairs of blankets and a bed cover as the season requires. The bedrooms are carefully swept and the windows thrown open every morning in which state they remain through the day. Of late, cast iron beds have been introduced in place of wooden ones. The upper body clothing in use in summer both for boys and girls is entirely of cotton which, as they have spare suits to change with, are washed once a fortnight. In the winter the boys are dressed in woollen cloth and they, as well as the girls have complete dress suits for Sundays. Their linens are changed once a week. For a few months in summer both boys and girls go without shoes and stockings.
Dale introduced a structured and progressive system of education for his child workers, establishing a school which, by 1796, employed 16 teachers and instructed 507 pupils in reading, writing and arithmetic. Two part-time teachers also taught sewing and church music. Younger children attended during the day and older ones once they had completed their days work.
Retirement, Legacy and Death
Rosebank Estate, Cambuslang
In 1800, Dale purchased the estate of Rosebank, near Cambuslang, with a view to retirement. He had begun to sell his mills, including, most importantly, the sale of New Lanark to his son-in-law, Robert Owen in 1799. Catrine followed in 1801, Spinningdale in 1804 and Dalmarnock in 1805. Dale died at Rosebank on 17th March, 1806.
You can find out more about David Dale from the following sources: David J McLaren, David Dale of New Lanark (Milngavie: Heatherbank Press, 1983. 2nd ed., 1990) The Story of New Lanark, New Lanark Trust RBS Heritage Archives: http://heritagearchives.rbs.com/people/list/david-dale.html
It was under the enlightened management of Robert Owen that New Lanark became famous.
Robert Owen married David Dale’s daughter, Caroline Dale, in 1799 and in the same year formed a partnership to buy her father's mills at New Lanark. Robert and Caroline set up home in New Lanark and went on to have seven children. Owen remains to this day the name most commonly associated with the site. Although Owen's period of ownership lasted only 10 years longer than that of his father-in-law, David Dale, Owen instituted a wide range of workplace, social, and educational reforms that led to the idea of New Lanark as an 'ideal' community and of Owen himself as a Socialist. Owen described his work at New Lanark as “the most important experiment for the happiness of the human race that has yet been instituted in any part of the world”.
Early Life & Background
Robert Owen was born on 14th May 1771 in Newtown, Wales to Robert, a saddler, and his wife Anne. Robert was a bright child who read extensively and was apprenticed for 3 years to Mr. McGuffog, a Scots draper in Stamford, Lincolnshire. From there, he moved to a busy London drapers, then to a wholesale drapery in Manchester where he remained until he was 18. These posts gave him excellent experience in book-keeping and the wholesale and retail trades. In Manchester, Owen formed his first business partnership with a mechanic named Ernest Jones to produce spinning mules. The business lasted only a few months and with his share, Owen embarked on a yarn spinning business with two other Scots and was soon making a profit of around £6 per week, highlighting his keen business acumen.
After a year or so, Owen applied for, and was appointed to the role of manager at Drinkwater's Bank Top Mill in Manchester, where, yet to reach his twentieth birthday, he found himself in charge of 500 workers and responsible for the whole concern, from buying raw cotton to its manufacture into yarn. It was at Drinkwater's that Owen not only honed his business knowledge, but also became interested in improving working conditions and other wider philosophical matters. Following his time at Drinkwater's, Owen formed the Chorlton Twist Company with new partners, and represented the partnership on business trips to Glasgow. It was on one such trip that he met Caroline Dale, and was invited by her to view her father's cotton spinning enterprise at New Lanark.
Robert Owen married Caroline Dale in 1799 and in the same year formed a partnership to buy her father's mills at New Lanark. Robert and Caroline set up home in New Lanark on the 1st January 1800 and went on to have seven children: Robert Dale (1801), William (1802), Anne Caroline (1805), Jane Dale (1805), David Dale (1807), Richard Dale (1809), and Mary (1810). The family spent many happy years at New Lanark where Owen believed in play, fresh air and sport, and where they were joined by their grandfather David Dale for holidays. In 1808 Owen leased the much larger Braxfield House on the outskirts of the village. Owen and Caroline had a happy marriage and the children were encouraged to become involved with the life of the community.
Owen at New Lanark
Owen believed that New Lanark was the perfect place to build on the reforms he had begun to implement in Manchester- an isolated community far away from the temptations of the city. He instituted a range of radical reforms aimed at improving the efficiency of the business and the moral fibre of its inhabitants, paying for these reforms from the substantial profits of the cotton-spinning business- an early form of social enterprise. Owen described his work at New Lanark as “the most important experiment for the happiness of the human race that has yet been instituted in any part of the world”.
The first period of Owen’s management of the New Lanark Cotton Mills was characterised by his efforts to expand the business and make it more efficient. He introduced such initiatives as report books and product books to record daily production as well as new reporting systems and stock control. A much stricter regime than under previous managers meant that employees could be dismissed for theft, fraud, absenteeism and persistent drunkenness. But although he was strict, Owen was also fair and established an unusual form of discipline known as the Silent Monitor- a daily grading system on behaviour and effort. White was excellent, yellow was good, blue just about acceptable and black- well as they say, ‘your jacket was on a shoogly peg’!
Most importantly, Owen reduced the length of the working day to 10.5 hours and abolished the practice of employing orphans in the mills, supporting this through the provision of world’s first nursery. Owen also added to the physical fabric of the complex with a new Mechanics’ Workshop, an Iron Foundry and a series of low-rise buildings on the river bank, called the Waterhouses, all built to help increase efficiency and production, hence increasing profits to be used in his reforms.
In addition to workplace reforms, Owen also aimed to improve the living conditions of his workers and promote a sense of community responsibility that made the village a happy and peaceful place to live. He implemented a series of strict rules for residents to abide by, including: ‘That all be temperate in the use of liquors’ ‘That parents be answerable for the conduct of their children, and householders for their lodgers ‘That every inhabitant, whether man, woman or child, above the age of ten, capable of working, be actively engaged in some legal and useful employment.’
Neighbourhoods were organised into 12 divisions, each with an elected spokesperson who formed a community council that met with Owen to discuss village affairs and adjudicate disputes. They also inspected households for cleanliness and became known as the ‘bug hunters’! Owen employed village doctor and operated a sickness fund, to which each worker contributed one sixteenth of their wages and from which they could draw payments if unable to work through illness. He believed that health could generally be improved by a clean living environment and fresh air and provided residents with allotments to grow their own fruit and vegetables as well as planting woodlands and laying out paths on the hillside above the village, to be enjoyed by the villagers.
The centrepieces of Owen’s experiment at New Lanark were his “Institute for the Formation of Character” finished in 1816, along with its companion building, the “School for Children”, finished a year later. Owen believed that every person had a right to an education and recreation and these buildings were used for this purpose. Under Owen's management, children who would previously have worked in the mill were sent to school and received structured full-time education. No child under 10 was allowed to work in the Mills. As soon as village children could walk, they were taken into the nursery, where they were looked after by two young village girls. This meant their mothers could go back to work and the process effectively formed the world’s first workplace nursery. From Owen’s point of view, the earlier children were removed from the influence of their parents, who had not had the benefit of his ‘rational system of education’, the better! From age 3 to 6, children attended the infant school where they were taught to share and be kind to each other. Then aged 7, they attended junior school where, in addition to banning corporal punishment, Owen expected lessons and the teaching environment to be interesting and stimulating. Music and dancing played an important role in the curriculum which was also extremely varied and included nature study, history, geography and art, as well as reading writing and arithmetic. Owen even devised a uniform for the children- a toga like garment made of white cotton that was light and comfortable for the children to wear and well suited to dancing and physical activity.
Many visitors came to New Lanark to observe the classes, as can be seen in this well-known picture of a dancing class by R Scott. It, possibly more than any other images, highlights the difference between New Lanark and the 'dark satanic mills' of Manchester and elsewhere. Starting work in the mills did not mean the end of education. Owen encouraged parents to leave children in school until age 12 but continued to provide evening classes for older children and adults, with the shortened working day making it possible for people to attend these. The Institute for the Formation of character acted as a library and social community centre for the village and balls, lectures, a weekly concert and religious services where all held in the building. The use of the Institute and School as social and educational centres continued with subsequent owners right up until the mills closed in 1968.
The Co-Operative Movement
Another significant development made by Owen was the establishment of a village store around 1813. This was run for the benefit of the community and was regarded as an inspiration for the Co-op movement which was subsequently founded by the Rochdale Pioneers. In David Dale’s time, there were traders in the village but many of them sold poor quality goods at high prices. The goods sold in Owen’s village store were good quality, fresh and affordable and workers could be paid in tokens or tickets which they would use at the store, encouraging the villagers to shop locally. As a result, the store was successful and profits helped to fund what was for Owen the most important reform –education. For over 100 years the shop was owned and run by the mill company until 1933 when it was leased to the Lanark Provident Coop Society.
The American Experiment
Later Life, Death & Legacy
Back in Britain, Owen became, for a time, a recognised leader of the working class movement. He helped to set up the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union and in 1832, established the National Equitable Labour Exchange in London. Aged 64, Owen founded the Association of All Classes of All Nations. This was later known as the Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists or, more briefly, The Rational Society. By 1840 it had around 50,000 members and it's weekly newspaper, the New Moral world, ran for over ten years with circulation peaking at 40,000. Owen also became involved with various attempts to establish model communities.
Although he was opposed to organised religion, in his last years, Owen converted to spiritualism. He continued to write and make speeches but was not taken particularly seriously. Owen died on 17th November 1858 in Newtown, Wales, where he was born.
You can find out more about Robert Owen from the following sources: The Story of Robert Owen, New Lanark Trust Ian Donnachie, Robert Owen Social Visionary (John Donald, 2005) Noel Thompson & Chris williams (Eds), Robert Owen and his Legacy (University of Wales Press, 2011) Robert Owen, A New View of Society and Other Writings (Penguin Classics, 1991) www.robert-owen-museum.org.uk
New Lanark Trust
New Lanark Trust is a Registered Scottish Charity (SC008552) which was established in 1974 with the aim of restoring and regenerating the former cotton mill village of New Lanark as a living and working community which is a major source of employment and commercial activity in the area.
Charles and Henry Walker were the sons of John Walker, Owen's wealthy and much respected Quaker partner. Like Robert Owen, the Walkers were humanitarian employers. As members of the Society of Friends or 'Quakers', they held the view that decent working and social conditions were worth investing in. The Walkers did not possess Owen's flair for self-promotion or Dale's extensive connections with the Scottish establishment, and as such, less is now about New Lanark under their ownership. We do know that New Lanark was one of the first of several Scottish country spinning mills to be visited by the new Factory Inspectorate in 1833. The inspectors were suitably impressed, reporting that the mills were 'under the same excellent management with a view to health, education and general comfort of the workers, which prevailed during the proprietorship of the late philanthropic Mr. Dale and his son-in-law the well known Mr Robert Owen.’
By the 1850s, the Walkers seem to have lost interest in the Mills and unsuccessfully attempted to sell them in 1851. It wasn’t until 30 years later they eventually sold the Mills to Birkmyre and Somerville.