I was in Glasgow for the weekend a couple of weeks ago. One of the highlights of the visit was a trip to New Lanark. As probably the first model village in the UK, it’s now one of Scotland’s six world heritage sites, owned by a preservation trust who manage the site.
The mill is located in a beautiful and sheltered valley south of Glasgow. It has its own mill-race or ‘lade’ (the Scots word), which is a diverted branch of the Clyde. There are spectacular waterfalls and scenery.
New Lanark was built as a cotton mill, and the most interesting stages of its development occurred under the stewardship of one of its owners, Robert Owen. Unusally for social reformers of the period, Owen was an atheist, and New Lanark was built and run on strict Benthamite principles. Owen’s workers were able to access good food, education and healthcare, but were subject to very strict routines and oversight. New Lanark has some fascinating exhibitions showing preserved living accommodation and working conditions, as well as the history of the mill.
But one of the chief attractions for me was that New Lanark is still a working mill. The trustees have switched production from cotton to wool, producing a highly-regarded (by those in the know) range of hard-wearing and tweedy yarns in a wide range of colours.
Their spinning is still powered by the river, except with a modern turbine instead of water wheels. The Mill is entirely energy self-sufficient, its turbines providing power to the whole site (including a hotel and spa) as well as returning power to the National Grid.
Part of the tour includes a walk through their working mill, using a lot of the existing belt-driven machinery, with the main turbine-powered spindle running the length of the room at ceiling height and always turning.
And at the end of the room was a basket full of finished yarn. Big squishy hanks of it, rather like those body pillows that you see sometimes. It was very tempting to try to stuff one into my bag and take it away with me, but I’m not sure they would have let me. I think it would have been a little obvious if I’d tried to sneak it out with me, sadly.
And a working mill that produces its own yarn means a factory shop, hopefully full of bargains. New Lanark yarn is tremendous value anyway, but buying straight from the manufacturer offers the prospect of unusual items not normally sold retail. The shop had a bulging remnants basket, which was very tempting, but what I came home with was coned yarn. It’s fantasically good value, at just under £23 for 570g of yarn. Though it comes with the spinning oil still in it. I’ve never worked with oiled yarn before, so I’ll have to do some research about how to use it.
I bought two shades, both in their wool/silk DK tweed. Firstly, I bought two cones in a lovely warm brown shade. The colour has a slight purple shade running through it, and some pretty white tweed neps. I’m planning this will become a Rhinecliff cardigan, but I’ll probably lengthen the pattern quite a bit to mid-thigh rather than have it sit on the hip. That should give me a lovely, hard-wearing cardigan I can wear with jeans or with a dress. And you’ll see that I had the same problem taking this picture that I did with my Missy yarn!
I managed to restrain myself pretty well, I think. I could have bought an awful lot of yarn there. They had some lovely 1kg cones of aran weight tweed that were calling to me as well. I suppose I’ll just have to go back another time.
New Lanark is a great place for a day out, particularly if you’re interested in industrial and social history, and textiles. I’d strongly recommend a visit.
And did I mention they make their own ice cream? It’s fabulous.