Saturday, April 14, 2007

Day 2 New Lanark

Day 2, Wed April 11
Another overcast sky, but no rain for the 2nd day. Feels just like being in the Pacific NW. We are traveling in a small 16 passenger coach. Richard, our driver and guide, enlightens us with Scottish history as we journey. So far we have learned of the struggle for Scottish independence from William Wallace to Robert the Bruce, up through the Jacobite wars until Scotland and England were united in 1707. While we are being enlighted about this bloody history, his good humor still manages to make us laugh.

We headed south to New Lanark World Heritage Site. New Lanark is the site of a former mill where cotton was spun. Today, in one of the restored mill buildings, there is a small production of wool yarn being spun on a large spinning mule for the sake of education and for profit.
The community was built below three falls on the River Clyde in the late 1700’s by a Mr Dale. The mill ran on power generated by the falls. Today New Lanark still produces hydropower that runs the community, with enough left over to sell back to the power grid. .
The mill was purchased and run by Robert Owen from 1800-1825. He was a social reformer and forward thinker far ahead of his time. He ideas were not popular with other mill owners. But his efforts gave him the title Father of trade unionist movement in Scotland. He banned children from under age 10 from working in the mill. He started the first nursery school in the UK. Children from ages 2-9 went to school while their parents and siblings worked in the mill. Once children reached age 10, they worked in the mill and then attended classes at night. Mr Owen treated his own 7 children no differently than he treated the children of the mill workers. The school was built by money generated from the company store which was run as a cooperative. New Lanark was the first cooperative that lead to the foundation of The Co-op, a grocery store still thriving around the country today. In school not only were reading, writing, and arithmetic taught, but the children studied dancing, music, and nature studies.

The workers lived in buildings just across from the mill. A family of 10 may share one room, but they were warm, well fed, and had healthcare provided by the mill doctor. The work day started at 6 a.m with a breakfast break at 9 a.m. and lunch break in the middle of the afternoon. The work day ended at 7pm. The mill ran 6 days a week and was closed on Sunday. The mill operated until the middle of the 20th century until it could not operate profitably. The mill buildings sat empty and fell into disrepair from the elements and vandalism. A foundation saw the value in restoring the site and started the vast restoration of the mill in the 1970’s. The restoration still continues today. The site is a glorious example of public and private cooperation to preserve an important part of Scottish history and to educate generations to come. Today 150 people live on the site. Many visitors may only take the Millenium Ride. But I encourage you to view the movie, The Annie McLeod Story, in the school building, visit Robert Owen’s house, spend time looking through the exhibits in Mill buildings 1&2 and the housing block and take a hike up to the top falls. I was very struck by this place on my first visit 10 years ago and today deepened that impression. . I think it is the most tasteful and educational tourist site in Scotland.

When we arrived back in Glasgow, travelers were free to explore either the newly renovated Kelvingrove Museum or the Huntarian Gallery & MacKintosh House at the University. Kelvingrove is experiencing record high visitation numbers since reopening. But you’ll have to ask my travelers about it as I didn’t go. Ruth and I visited the MacKinstosh house. Here again, it had been 10 years since I visited this site and I was more impressed than before. When Charles and his wife Margaret MacDonald left Glasgow in 1914, one of his patrons bought the house. When the owner died, the family left the contents to the University of Glasgow. The actual house, located just a few blocks from the Univeristy, was torn down in the 1960’s. But in the early 1980’s, the museum built this addition to the gallery which replicates the rooms of the MacKintosh house. Each room is decorated with the furniture, light fixtures, artwork, textiles, and colors true to the original house. The sense of light and unity in the house gives a sense of sacred space. The popularity of MacKintosh and his designs today is amazing considering he died in London, almost entirely forgotten and poor.

On Wednesday nights Scottish musics rings out at a session at the Ben Nevis pub. Here I mostly listened as the tunes were played blazing fast on fiddles, guitar, flutes, the box, small pipes, and banjo. The smoking ban of 2005 certainly hasn’t hurt the popularity of pubs. The pub was literally overflowing with merry makers.

I'm posting this from a most unusual site...standing in a hotel kitchen on the cook's laptop while a Scottish country western band plays in the room next door!

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