Discover the Industrial Revolution in Lanarkshire
Explore the Industrial Revolution in South Lanarkshire
Nowadays it is hard to believe that it was in the deep green Lanarkshire countryside that the industrial revolution in Scotland was in its infancy and it was here that it nurtured truly revolutionary ideas.
Indeed the cotton mills at New Lanark were to earn a worldwide renown that continues today, more than two hundred years later, in its status as one of Scotland’s five UNESCO world heritage sites.
Poets, painters and crowned heads came to New Lanark to see for themselves the radical social experiment being undertaken by the benevolent mill owner Robert Owen.
At the turn of the 19th century when life in the mills was marked by exploitation and cruelty Robert Owen set out to do things differently in New Lanark. It was his belief that a happy workforce was a productive workforce.
In an inspirational woodland setting by the River Clyde, Robert Owen set out to offer unheard of levels of care. Men and women worked reasonable hours, lived in comfortable houses and were provided with music, dancing and learning at the Institute for the Formation of Character.
Way ahead of his time, Owen’s greatest concern was the children. In moves that are only now being adopted across Scotland, Owen provided nursery care and parenting classes believing that those mistreated as children did not make for productive adults.
It was also in New Lanark that Owen pioneered the idea of a co-operative enterprise through the village store.
It is more that 40 years since the mills stopped working and since then through the heroic efforts of the New Lanark trust the village remains a vibrant community and a first class visitor attraction that preserves Robert Owen’s legacy.
At roughly the same time as Robert Owen was pioneering his social welfare programme three brothers were blazing a trail in an industry that was to sustain Lanarkshire for another two hundred years.
In 1779 the Wilson brothers founded the Wilsontown ironworks on their estate near Forth. With no suitable local labour they attracted over 2000 people from all over the UK to form a new community.
The community thrived and a school, a church and a bakery were built in this otherwise empty landscape. The ironworks did well in the Napoleonic war years but for the Wilsons it was a venture that was to end in bankruptcy and legal squabbling.
Wilsontown had the raw materials to hand but ultimately it was too remote from its customers to be viable.
Little of the ironworks remain, however you can still detect wagon ways, spoil heaps and grass grown foundations. The Forestry Commission who manage the site have constructed trails around the site.
The Industrial Revolution also gave rise to notions of strike, radicalism and workers rights. In 1820 in a wider uprising known as the Radical War a small band of protesting weavers set out from Strathaven for Cathkin in Glasgow.
James Wilson, a leading radical was arrested and found guilty of high treason and was hanged and then beheaded. He is buried in Strathaven cemetery where a memorial has been erected in his honour.
Lanarkshire Industrial Revolution Points of Interest
- New Lanark World Heritage Site – the perfectly preserved 18th century mill town is now a first class visitor attraction. The former mills now house a quality hotel, visitor centre and shop. A tenement row in the heart of the village has been converted to an excellent youth hostel.
- The Scottish Wildlife Trust manage the Falls of Clyde wildlife reserve at New Lanark. The SWT have their own visitor centre and organise guided walks and events.
- Wilsontown is one mile to the north of Forth by the A706. The former ironworks is a scheduled ancient monument and two easy trails explore the history and wildlife of the site. Of those tracing their family history may want to delve into the records of Dixons of Glasgow, who took over the plant from the Wilsons and Carron Company of Falkirk records in the National Archives of Scotland.
- Strathaven - Visit Strathaven cemetery for the grave of James Wilson and the martyrs’ memorial.