Children & Cotton Learning Zone for Social Studies & Citizenship
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This is David Dale

This is Robert Owen


New Lanark yarn label 

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Pauper Apprentices

















CLICK TO ENLARGE: The story of the Fortune shipwreck

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Job advert for New Lanark Mills - Why are large families wanted? Why do you think only natives are wanted?






Compare the working day of child workers at New Lanark and Lancashire

CLICK TO ENLARGE: A child worker's day in 1816 at New Lanark
CLICK TO ENLARGE: A child worker's day in Lancashire in 1832


 This is a Silent Monitor





Annie Says ...




In the year 1784, a wealthy Scottish businessman called David Dale came to see the Falls of Clyde near the town of Lanark. He brought with him Richard Arkwright, who was a clever inventor. Together they decided that this would be a great place to build a cotton-spinning mill. They knew that the fast-flowing water of the River Clyde could turn water-wheels and power the machinery in the mills.

They built New Lanark Cotton Mills and Village on the banks of the river. Richard Arkwright trained men to make the machines he had invented, and showed them how they worked. David Dale got together a team of men to build the mills, the water-power system and houses for the workers.

Raw cotton was brought in ships across the Atlantic from hot areas like the Southern States of America to Glasgow or Greenock, then by horse-drawn wagons to New Lanark. It was made into thread on the huge spinning machines inside the mills. Then it was ready for weaving into cloth.

Children, men and women all worked long hours in David Dale's noisy, dusty mills. Although by the standards of the day, the New Lanark mills were quite a good place to work compared with other places, and the children who worked there were not badly treated. Many were orphans or abandoned children who might otherwise have been left in orphanages or on the streets. At least they had plenty to eat, clothes to wear, and they were taught to read, write, do sums and study the Bible at New Lanark.

In the year 1800, David Dale's son-in-law, Robert Owen took over as manager of New Lanark Mills. Owen made many changes. He wanted to make New Lanark a better place to live and work, and hoped other factory owners would copy his ideas.

Robert Owen believed that it was important to have happy workers, as well making money. New Lanark workers didn't have to work really long hours each day and Mr Owen built a village store where they could buy good quality food at fair prices. Perhaps the most important thing he did was to pay for two large new buildings where there was a nursery and day school. There were even evening classes! Did you know that this was the first infant school in the world!

Concerts and dances were also held and there was a village band because Mr Owen thought that music and dancing were very important. He made a woodland park, where the villagers could enjoy fresh air and sunshine. Lots of the residents also had allotments where they could grow vegetables. Many visitors came from all over the world to see Robert Owen's Model Community at New Lanark. 

The cotton mills at New Lanark carried on producing cotton, long after Robert Owen left. They finally closed down in 1968. Today, all of the buildings in the village are cared for by New Lanark Trust. Most of them are over 200 years old! People still live in the houses, which are modern inside but look old from the outside. The mills no longer make cotton thread. They have been recycled and given new uses. Mill One is now a hotel and Mill Three contains a cafe, shop and some of the Visitor Centre exhibitions, including a roof garden! There is still spinning on the Mill Floor today, but it is wool rather than cotton these days. 

New Lanark is a World Heritage Site, and people come from all over the world to visit this special village, much like they did in the past.

New Lanark Mills were in production spinning cotton yarn and other materials for almost 200 years from 1785 to 1968! At the beginning of the 19th century, the mills were the largest cotton spinning mills in Scotland! But what was it like in the early days?

David Dale built 4 large cotton mill buildings at New Lanark in 1784 which were powered by the water from the Falls of Clyde.

Have you heard of a book called The 1st Statistical Account of Scotland? It is a very useful source that tells us what Scotland was like 200 years ago. It tells us about the population, jobs, food, clothes, and how people lived in different areas. Information about New Lanark in the 1790s was included in the Statistical Account of Lanarkshire.

The total population of the village was 1519, and of them, 1334 people worked in the Mills. Most of the mill's workers lived in the village of New Lanark, with a few living in the neighbouring market town of Lanark. At this time, it was quite normal for children to be sent out to work at a very young age, as you will have learned.

The Statistical Account also tells us that there were many different jobs being done in New Lanark. As well as the mill workers at that time, there were also 45 labourers, 7 clockmakers, 5 weavers, 3 schoolmasters, 11 smiths, 10 wrights, 8 tailors, 7 masons, 3 shoemakers, 3 turners and 2 merchants! Do you know what these jobs are? Why do you think they would be found in New Lanark? 

Around one-third of Mr Dale's workforce were pauper apprentices. During the 1790s, the mills became quite a tourist attraction and many people praised Dale for his kindness to his workers, especially the pauper apprentices, because he gave them a home, work and an education.

Many visitors wrote about what they saw at New Lanark. Visitors to New Lanark often noticed how healthy and well the children looked. This was because in Mr Dale's mills their health were carefully looked after, and they were taught to behave well. 


“At least 1,500 people live in the village, and about 1,400 of them work in the cotton-mills. The others are either too young, or too old to work. About 500 of the workers are children, who are given food and lodgings in the apprentice house in return for their work."

"In some other mills, there is a lot of disease, illness and bad behaviour, but not at New Lanark. Out of nearly 3,000 children who have been working at the mills for the last twelve years, from 1785 – 1797, only 14 have died. Not a single one has been in trouble with the law. What a wonderful man David Dale is! He has made so many people happy and comfortable.”


As well as the pauper apprentices, many of the early workers at New Lanark came from the Highlands. It was difficult to find workers for the mill when it first opened, because it was in the countryside and mill working didn't appeal to many people who had worked on the land.

Do you know where in Scotland Caithness, Sutherland, Skye, Inverness-shire or Argyllshire are located? People from all of these area came to live and work in New Lanark.

In 1791, a ship called The Fortune was sailing from the Isle of Skye to America. On board the ship were Highlanders who were planning to emigrate to America. It was driven back to Greenock by a terrible storm, which damaged the mast, and the passengers were put back ashore. Many of these people came to New Lanark. 


Soon after, he advertised for more workers from the Highlands and Islands. He wanted to let people know that they had no need to emigrate, because families could get jobs and homes in New Lanark. He promised to build more houses and these were finished in 1793. As a result, many Highlanders came to live in New Lanark. It is thought that Caithness Row, one of the first housing blocks in the village, was named after the first Highland residents who settled in the village.


In the year 1800, Robert Owen, became manager of the New Lanark Mills. He married David Dale's eldest daughter, Caroline. He had many new ideas about the Factory System and made many changes which improved the living and working conditions for the people of the village. One of the most important things he did was to stop employing very young children in the mills. He let them all go to school instead! As a result of the changes that Owen made, and his efforts to give mill workers a better life, New Lanark became even more famous as a model village!

Robert Owen thought that children should be educated and not forced to work in the mills at such a young age. He ended the pauper apprentice system at New Lanark. All children under the age of 10 had to go to school. When  a child reached 10 years of age they could start working in the mills or continue at school until the age of 12. This depended on whether your family could afford to keep sending you to school. Mr Owen also reduced the working day for everyone to ten and a half hours per day! It was normally around 14 hours or more! 

Robert Owen was a very good businessman and he improved the efficiency of the mills. He was known as a strict but fair manager. There was no physical punishment allowed in New Lanark Mills. One way that he encouraged his workers to work harder was using the Silent Monitor.

A Silent Monitor was a small cube of wood and each side was painted a different colour. Every worker had a monitor at their work station in the mill. Every day, the mill superintendant or Mr Owen himself, would tour the mill to inspect production and see how hard everyone was working! Each person was graded according to their behaviour and effort. The following morning, workers arrived at their station to their monitor turned to a particular colour. This colour represented the grading for the previous day's work and behaviour!

It took a while before workers got used to this strange idea. Eventually, it worked and people were motivated to work better. They could see how they had improved when their monitor changed colour! It could also change for the worse though too! Why do you think that this simple idea worked in the mill?


This is what another visitor, Dr. McNab discovered when he had a conversation with a man who had worked for Robert Owen for nearly 20 years. 

“The man said he only had ten shillings and sixpence when he first came to the village.   Now he was married, and had eleven children.   Five of his children were working in the cotton-mills.   The two oldest earned 32 shillings a month, the next two 24 shillings and the fifth 8 shillings a month. 

The other six children were under ten years old, but he was not worried about having such a big family to support, or even about having more children.   His children went to school and got a good education. He had a comfortable house with good furniture, which he invited us to come and see. 

He told us that when one of his children was ill for four months, he didn’t have to pay anything for the doctor to look after the sick child, or for the medicines that were given.   He only had to pay three pence a month for the children’s school books and pencils”.

The Mills were considered to be better than many others:

"The rooms are ventilated by means of sash windows ...the drainage is good ...
the working rooms are particularly clean and free from smells."

Medical Report of New Lanark, 1833.

Learning ActivityLearning ActivityLearning ActivityClick to find out more about living in New Lanark in the 1820s





New Lanark Case Study


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CLICK TO ENLARGE: Find out where New Lanark is located

New Lanark school children dancing for visitors

New Lanark World Heritage Site today

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Early picture of New Lanark in 1799 by R Scott


New Lanark Village in the 1900s


New Lanark in the early 1800s


Many visitors came to New Lanark






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 Mill workers' homes at New Lanark


Caithness Row and the Counting House at New Lanark


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Robert Owen sent children to school rather than to the mill


Mill workers had an inspection of their work


New Lanark Mills





New Lanark mill workers





CLICK TO OPEN more information about the New Lanark Spinning Mule 





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New Lanark World Heritage Site
South Lanarkshire, Scotland, ML11 9DB
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