For April’s collections blog, we are writing about our transcription of the New Lanark Mill visitor books.
New Lanark Mill was first set up in 1786 by merchant and businessman David Dale and later came under the management of his son-in-law, Robert Owen. It was once the largest cotton mill in Scotland. Both men had similar ideals about setting up humanitarian industrial workplaces; they aimed to provide a decent quality of life for their workers whilst still maintaining high production levels. It was, however, Robert Owen who really put these ideas into practice from 1800 onward.
Robert Owen is known today as one of the founders of socialism and the cooperative movement – and this all started at New Lanark. He provided his workforce with social provisions such as schools for children and evening classes for adults, shops selling cheap but decent goods, and good quality housing. Wages were relatively low, but these additional provisions allowed for a much higher standard of living than could be afforded in other industrial communities. The Mill acted as a working model of all Owen’s ideas about industry and welfare. Due to the pioneering welfare system Owen enforced, the Mill attracted visitors from all over the World.
Within our New Lanark Mill collection (reference UGD42/7) we hold all the usual business records, but also some quite unique items. There are records relating to the village and the workers, such as population statistics and registers of births, deaths and marriages, as well as a few artefacts. There are also records relating to the socio-economic significance of the Mill: Robert Owen’s diary and anonymous letters to the Economist discussing the feasibility of Owen’s industrial model. And of course the visitor books, which give a good idea of the sorts of people who were interested in the Mill at the time.
An initial transcription of the 1821-24 visitor book had been created by Club21 volunteer Michael Black. We built on this, working methodically through the book and transcribing dates, names of visitors and their residences. Researchers using our transcription will be able to search by each of these criteria. Notable visitors include key industrialists from Scotland and further afield, clerical philanthropists, and even some European government officials and members of royal families!
An additional resource we are working on to accompany the transcription is an interactive map displaying the spread of visitor residences, with visitor’s details plotted onto their residential location. From this map, one can see clearly the concentration of visitors from within the UK, as well as from areas of significance for the cotton industry, such as the USA. This surprisingly far-reaching spread of visitors highlights the global significance of the Mill. A work in progress of this map can be viewed online here.
These visitor books are an interesting resource for a variety of researchers: genealogists; local heritage researchers; and academics interested in class relations, social reform, Robert Owen himself, philanthropy, the textile industry and Scottish industry. The transcription we are creating will make this information more easily accessible, alongside a clear visual mapping of visitors to the Mill.
As ever, if you would like to see the records of New Lanark Mill, please come and visit by making an appointment with the Duty Archivist : firstname.lastname@example.org
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