Welcome to Lanark
The ancient town of Lanark, less than an hour's drive south of Glasgow, is one of the oldest Royal Burghs in Scotland and the hub of a county noted for its rich farmland. Being the county in which the River Clyde begins its descent towards Glasgow and the Central Belt, Lanarkshire is an area noted for some splendid waterfalls. Harnessing the might of the fast flowing river, the largest cotton mills ever built in Scotland were constructed about a mile south of the old town. Their construction prompted the establishment of the village of New Lanark. New Lanark is famed as the location of a revolutionary socio-economic experiment. Today this perfectly preserved industrial village provides a unique insight into the development of early capitalism. In 2001 it was recognised by UNESCO on its list of World Heritage Sites.
The Falls of the Clyde at Lanark
The town of Lanark is strategically located, overlooking the Clyde Valley. It was possibly the Romans who first recognised the site's significance; they built a fort on what is now Castle Hill, just south west of today's town centre. A bowling green at the foot of Castlegate marks the spot where kings such as William the Lion (1142-1214) lived while hunting in the area. It was this castle and St Kentigern's Church (the ruins of this 12th century church are one of Lanark's places of historical interest) which were to be the focal points for the growth of what would become an important market town. In the 12th century that Lanark became a Royal Burgh.
King Alexander III (1241 - 1286) sponsored the development of Lanark: holding parliaments there in 1283, 1284 and 1285. His death, shortly followed by that of his baby granddaughter's (the sole heir to the throne) plunged Scotland into crisis. Using the situation to his advantage, Edward I of England began meddling in Scottish politics: interference that would culminate in an all out invasion in 1297. Although Scottish resistance to occupation was hostile, rebellion lacked focus. This was to change when a young rebel named William Wallace arrived in Lanark in mid July. Although there are different accounts of what happened, what is certain is that Wallace slew the English appointed Sheriff of Lanark before massacring the occupying garrison. The events in Lanark gave the cause of independence a much needed hero and marked the beginning of the push which would eventually force the English to abandon Scotland.
More conflict was to come to Lanark in the17th century. In 1660 The Restoration brought King Charles II to the throne. Despite having previously signed The National Covenant, a document supporting the rights of the Kirk (the Scottish Presbyterian Church), he introduced a series of reforms which attempted to end the Presbyterian form of church government in favour of an Episcopacy. This attack on The Kirk was met with fury and rebellion; the rebels became known as The Covenanters. Between 1661 and 1688 an estimated 20,000 people lost their lives in battles and through persecution; this bloody period has gone down in history as The Killing Time. Unfortunately Lanark found itself in the thick of things: Lanark's townspeople were accused of supporting The Covenanters and received a hefty fine. While some had their property seized others were imprisoned or executed. The Martyrs' Monument, in St. Kentigerns churchyard commemorates Lanark's victims of The Killing Time.
Despite these setbacks, Lanark's growth, at the heart of a wealthy farming community, was never seriously stunted. Its wealth and importance can be ascertained from some of the houses built by the nobility in the burgh. One prime example is Hyndford House, which was constructed in the early 17th century. In the 19th century the arrival of the railway established Lanark as a commuter town and an important market for livestock. Nonetheless, as industrialisation largely passed Lanark by, the town remains charming, unspoiled and is home to some fine buildings.
However, industrialisation created the impetus for the construction of a new town, a mile south of the old. New Lanark was constructed in 1785 at the behest of the entrepreneur David Dale, in a deep gorge on the River Clyde: a project remarkable for its magnitude. This project had been undertaken in order that the fast flowing water of the Clyde be utilised to power what were to be Scotland's largest cotton mills. Dale ran the complex until 1800 when he sold the site to a young Welshman called Robert Owen. Before long Owen started to implement a series of reforms which were regarded as revolutionary. Child labour was phased out, a village shop was opened which cut costs by bulk buying and provided a rich variety of goods. The shop's profits were used to provide healthcare, childcare and education. Visitors came from all over Europe to view this project and the experiences they took back with them were to influence the development of the industrial world. Whether Owen was a humanist or he merely recognised that by taking care of his workforce he could best maximise profits, is an ongoing debate. What is certain is that elsewhere in Scotland workers would have to wait over a hundred years to achieve the same conditions offered at New Lanark in the early 19th century.
The mills at New Lanark proved profitable for just under 200 years; they were finally closed in 1968. However, the site has not been allowed to fall into dereliction. New Lanark has been painstakingly preserved and restored. The strange beauty of the early industrial houses and works, the grand setting, deep in a Clyde gorge, the awesome power of nature transformed into industrial might and a unique and fascinating social history make New Lanark a location from which no visitor can leave unaffected.