New Lanark mills were founded in 1784 next to the town of Lanark and subsequently purchased by a partnership that included Robert Owen in the early nineteenth century. Owen was an industrialist who became an influential social reformer. New Lanark, with its social and welfare programmes, epitomised his utopian socialism.
Some 2,000 people lived at New Lanark, many from the poorhouses of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Although not the grimest of mills by far, Owen found the conditions unsatisfactory and resolved to improve the workers' lot. He paid particular attention to the needs of the 500 or so children living and working at the mills and opened the first infant school in Great Britain in 1816.
The mills thrived commercially but Owen's partners were unhappy at the extra expenses that were incurred by his welfare programmes. Unwilling to allow the mills to revert back to the old ways of operating, Owen bought out his partners.
New Lanark became celebrated throughout Europe with many leading royals, statesmen and reformers visiting the mills. They were astonished to find a clean, healthy industrial environment with a content, vibrant workforce and a prosperous, viable business venture all rolled into one.
As well as the mills connections with reform, socialism and welfare, they are also representive of the Industrial Revolution that occurred in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries and which fundamentally altered the shape of the world.
The Falls of Clyde, painted by J.M.W. Turner are a short walk upstream.