New Lanark’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is due to the legacy left by Robert Owen and David Dale and their pioneering socialist ideals of the 19th century that provided the cotton mill workers, particularly women and children, with proper working and welfare conditions.
David Dale was already a successful businessman when he built the mills at New Lanark in 1777. He was born the son of a grocer in the Ayrshire town of Stewarton in 1739, and having served a weaving apprenticeship in Paisley, he set up a yarn importing business in 1763.
In 1799 Dale’s daughter Caroline married Robert Owen, who subsequently bought the New Lanark mills in 1800 from Dale for £60,000. Robert Owen was born in the small market town of Newtown in Wales in 1771 and his raison d’etre throughout his life was to improve the health, education, and rights of the working class.
Along with his father-in-law, Owen was one of the founders of the cooperative and socialist movements of the early 19th centuries.
During his 25 successful years running New Lanark, Owen created a model community where children under ten couldn’t work in the mills, free medical care was provided, as was a comprehensive education system for both children and adults.
Many of the original buildings are open to the public and a visit can be combined with a walk along the River Clyde to the spectacular Falls of Clyde, formed by Bonnington, Corra, Dundaff and Stonebyres waterfalls. The highest is the spectacular 28 metre high Corra Linn, which was painted by the celebrated artist JMW Turner in 1802.
Peregrine falcon and red squirrels may also be seen en route. During autumn the colours radiating from the beech and birch trees are exquisite whilst in spring wildflowers, such as bluebell and wild garlic, provide a riot of colour and smells.
Also above the banks of the Clyde at New Lanark is Corra Castle. Built around the 15th century it was perfectly positioned for defensive purposes as it faced the edge of a sheer cliff. It is alleged that Mary, Queen of Scots slept at Corra Castle after the Battle of Langside but, like most accounts of Mary’s whereabouts at certain points of her life, the story remains unsubstantiated.
At the bottom of the gorge there used to be a cornmill and a dungeon, which is now home to Daubenton’s, natterer’s and whiskered bats. It is thought the castle is used as a maternity roost for the bats between March and October.