We love visiting new places around the country. So we were excited to be invited down to New Lanark to visit the New Lanark World Heritage Centre. Although it was new to the children and my husband, I have visited New Lanark many times over the years as I grew up in a nearby town. I remember walking along to the Falls of the Clyde with my parents and grandparents, visiting whilst at school, receiving my Duke of Edinburgh Award in one of the halls, volunteering for the Scottish Wildlife Trust and taking my uni Conservation Society Group down for conservation working weekends. I have lots of fond memories of New Lanark and was excited to revisit with my family.
New Lanark is located at the bottom of a steep sided valley below the town of Lanark. As the cotton mill was powered by water it was naturally located beside the River Clyde.
It is around an hour journey south from Glasgow or Edinburgh by car. Alternatively there are buses and trains to Lanark from Glasgow. The number 135 circular bus from Lanark bus station can then take you all the way down to New Lanark itself. Check Traveline Scotland for the bus times.
New Lanark was a purpose built mill village, built in the 18th century on the banks of the River Clyde. Robert Owen’s father-in-law sold the mill and village to Robert who had big ideas for New Lanark. Robert Owen had a vision of a utopian society where there would be no crime, poverty or misery.
Robert Owen’s cotton mill was powered by several water wheels in each building. The lade, a channel of water siphoning off water from the river, runs through the village and delivers water along small channels off the lade into the mill buildings. The water then flows back into the river again.
The workers in the cotton mill had better standards of work than other mill workers of their day. Although they worked 10 hours a day, this was less than normal for workers at this time. All the workers were given a break for breakfast and dinner and had the opportunity to ‘better themselves’ with evening classes in the village. Workers were given decent pay and they could spend this in the village store, which had quality produce at low prices. Previously there were several shops selling lower quality produce at higher prices, so villagers were pleased to save money and eat better. The villagers also benefited from free healthcare and children under ten went to the free school.
The free education system was one of Robert Owen’s ideas, that all people should have access to, no matter their background. Babies and toddlers were sent to the nursery to be looked after safely, allowing their mothers to work in the mills. When they were old enough to walk and talk they went to the village infant school and received lessons from the school master. Interestingly there was no punishment at the school, teachers were to talk to the pupils and encourage questions.
Children could stay at the school until they were 12, but many left at 10 to work in the mills. The mill work was hard and involved long hours, but it was still a lot fairer than others of the time.
Of course Robert Owen’s utopian society was also good for him as an employer. Happy, healthy workers were more likely to work hard and not cause many problems. And with even the youngest children in the nursery mothers were no longer needed to stay home. Most adults were then able to work in the mills.
What To See
When you arrive at New lanark you will need to park in the car park at the top of the brae. Unless you are staying at the hotel or youth hostel of course. Tickets can be bought at the reception or online. If you are a UK tax payer and gift aid the tax on the ticket you can receive an unlimited card, allowing you to visit New Lanark as often as you would like for a whole year.
Annie Mcleod Experience
At reception you can then walk through the building and across the tunnel into the mill buildings where you begin the tour with the Annie Mcleod experience. Annie is a young girl who lived in New Lanark in the 1820’s and she narrates the story of life in the village. Both boys loved riding in the pods and learning about Annie’s school, the work at the mill and her home. It’s easy to understand and my 5 year old in particular got a lot from this experience.
From here you can visit one of the old mill buildings, which still has some of the old machinery in use for demonstration purposes. The boys watched the film about where cotton came from and how it transported from America to Scotland. There were opportunities to learn more about children’s lives in New Lanark in the 1800’s and try out a couple of games. Of course the wooden slide was a big hit with our boisterous boys and they spent some time pretending to be on a big ship, lifting cotton bales on and off!
You can also take the lift up to the 7th floor to visit the roof top garden, which is beautiful. We loved the views from the top and you can also spot many animal sculptures. My favourites were the snails!
Our eldest is a huge fan of mazes and as soon as he saw the little maze from the upper view point he ran back down to find his way to the centre.
There is a lovely little cafe inside the mill buildings and we had a delicious lunch whilst we were there. The shop is perfect for anyone looking for a Scottish souvenir or even wool that is still made at New Lanark.
Outside the mill buildings you can check out the replica water wheel, which our 5 year old was fascinated by. We spent quite a long time looking at how it worked and discussing this with him.
The next stop for us was the old school building, which is laid out with the benches and slates for children to write on. If your children are into dressing up there are tabards that they can try on if they want to wear what children in the 1820’s did. I love the giant globe in the corner and it was interesting to see a crocodile in an open box marked ‘dangerous’. From the sound of the film it wasn’t unusual for the children to be exposed to animals at the school.
The second room in the school building explains a bit more of the more recent history of the village, particularly the war years of the 1900’s and of restoring the village. There is also an interactive soft play area downstairs in the school building, which costs a little extra per child to visit.
Village Store and Mill Workers Cottage
In the row of the cottages opposite the reception area you can also visit a replica village store from the 1820’s and a mill workers building. The store is entered through the current shop (mainly toys and sweets) and is quite basic as it would have been at the time. The boys could tell what most of the items in the shop were, except the hanks of meat, as we don’t normally see that nowadays.
The mill workers cottage shows what it was like to live there in both the 1930’s and 1820’s. The 1930’s house consisted of two room, one for day time and a small bedroom at the back. Compared to the 1820’s room it was quite large! We heard Annie Mcleod talking about the hurly beds when we were on the ride and you can see what she meant here. Our two were quite surprised to think of a whole family (up to 10!) living in one small room for sleeping living and cooking.
Robert Owen’s House
We actually ran out of time on our visit and didn’t manage to visit Robert Owen’s house. This is the house that Annie was impressed with as it had more rooms than people! The house includes the original desk of Robert Owen and the fancy living room furniture.
Falls of The Clyde
I love the walks along the Clyde from New Lanark. There are extensive paths all around the Clyde here, the basic walk along to see Cora Linn and the old pavilion. However there are further paths up to Bonnington Linn weir and across to the other side of the river. Before you get to Bonnington Linn there is a Peregrine watch site where you can spy on the nesting pair from April-June under supervision of SWT.
With our tired legged 3 year old we only just made it to Cora Linn view point. The waterfall looks an amazing sight, but it’s even better on days that the water is released from the weir or after heavy rain.
Above the view point from the waterfall is an old building. The building was once full of mirrors as it was believed that women couldn’t cope with the seeing the full force of the waterfall. Instead they should only see the reflection!
On our return from the walk to Cora Linn the boys were desperate to play in the park on the opposite side of lade. The Clearburn park is a great park with plenty to keep the kids occupied for an hour. A great place to run off some steam when visiting the museum area.
There is also a small Scottish Wildlife Trust visitor centre, which has plenty of interactive exhibits. I particularly loved the bat exhibit which shows children how echolocation works. This centre is free for SWT members or £3 for non-members.
We had a fantastic time! Arriving just after opening and leaving at 4pm when the museum close we still didn’t have enough time to visit all the attractions. The attractions are all quite engaging and there was always something to interest our 3 and 5 year olds. If you are looking for somewhere engaging and of interest to the whole family, then it really is worth a visit to New Lanark. Check out their website here.
They are also running buy one, get one free on tickets throughout February and March this year, just head over here to book!
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* We were provided with tickets for the purpose of this post, however all opinions are my own.