back to article Get thee behind me, Satanic mills! Robert Owen's Scottish legacy

The European Route of Industrial Heritage marks New Lanark as an anchor point in the global development of textiles and architecture, and so it is. Nestled in the Clyde Valley the village owes its existence to the falls that were harnessed to refine raw cotton sent in from the colonies: a picture-postcard image from a time …

  1. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Social agenda

    Not sure why the mill might have been more profitable without the social agenda if profits rose precisely because he bought the mill and implemented the social agenda.

    Funny how things seem to be going backwards from those basic premises that industrialists themselves implemented then because they understood the bigger picture. E.g. I don't see any mention of zero hours contracts as a good thing in that quote. Odd, that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Social agenda

      Exactly so. A happy and contented workforce that knows just how lucky they are is likely to be much more productive, willing to make suggestions to improve output, and anxious to ensure that things continue.

      The logic is always applied to CEOs who have to be extravagantly rewarded to keep them happy, but strangely not to the rest of the workforce.

      1. John Hawkins

        Re: Social agenda

        It makes good business sense to look after the livestock, regardless of any social values added by the policy.

        Said livestock at that time would have had a life that was 'nasty, brutish and short' by our standards, so simply making sure that it was well fed, free from common diseases and rested would have made a significant difference to productivity.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Social agenda

          "Funny how things seem to be going backwards from those basic premises that industrialists themselves implemented then because they understood the bigger picture."

          The first thing that I asked myself when reading the article was indeed this same point.

          Unfortunately, it appears as though we have come full circle and are now regressing into back into a darker age. The media "successfully" portrays an image of individual wealth, corporate greed and the everyman for himself attitude are far more important than any form of altruism.

          The heroes of today are those that have managed to climb the corporate ladder, who have royally screwed their consumers or whose skill involves kicking a ball around.... Society new seem based upon facade après façade of unattainable dreams...

          Just what are Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Global Corporates et al waiting on before redistributing all that wealth in order to help create a flatter, more rounded pyramid.

          1. Tim Worstal

            Re: Social agenda

            Most businessmen do actually get it.

            Because it's not "paying enough so the cattle get a decent life"'s "paying a bit more to the good staff than anyone else will".

            Pay or conditions a bit over market average will enable you to pick and choose who you employ. Henry Ford got it with his $5 a day (nope, it were nowt to do with the workers buying the cars) and the tech companies all get it with those ever spiralling wages for engineers.

            It's relative wages that count there, not absolute levels.

            1. Graham Marsden

              @Tim Worstall - Most businessmen do actually get it.

              "Pay or conditions a bit over market average will enable you to pick and choose who you employ [...] It's relative wages that count there"

              In other words "Be happy you're getting a bit more money than those other poor bastards and don't rock the boat, otherwise you could be back at the bottom of the pile."

              Meanwhile it's trebles all round in the board room...

              *cough* Cui Bono? *cough*

            2. Turtle

              @Tim Worstal Re: Social agenda

              "Pay or conditions a bit over market average will enable you to pick and choose who you employ. Henry Ford got it with his $5 a day (nope, it were nowt to do with the workers buying the cars) and the tech companies all get it with those ever spiralling wages for engineers."

              From what I've read (if I am recalling correctly) the actual problem that faced Ford was the very high turnover in his workforce and he realized that that was costing him far more than increased wages would cost. I believe that the "pick and choose" aspect / advantage was secondary to the high turnover in the workforce problem.

              1. StudeJeff

                Re: @Tim Worstal Social agenda

                Enlightened self interest. Ford was a jerk (to be polite about it), but hew as also very sharp and realized that if he took care of his workers he would have a more stable, productive workforce.

          2. Tom 38

            Re: Social agenda

            Just what are Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Global Corporates et al waiting on before redistributing all that wealth in order to help create a flatter, more rounded pyramid.

            Funny couple of names you've chosen there. Bill Gates has a charitable foundation with $40 billion in endowments (and has pledged to donate the remaining 95% of his wealth on death), to which Warren Buffet has pledged to give 99% of his Berkshire Hathaway shares by or on his death (he's already donated >$10 billion).

            A market economy creates some lopsided payoffs to participants. The right endowment of vocal chords, anatomical structure, physical strength, or mental powers can produce enormous piles of claim checks (stocks, bonds, and other forms of capital) on future national output. Proper selection of ancestors similarly can result in lifetime supplies of such tickets upon birth. If zero real investment returns diverted a bit greater portion of the national output from such stockholders to equally worthy and hardworking citizens lacking jackpot-producing talents, it would seem unlikely to pose such an insult to an equitable world as to risk Divine Intervention

  2. EddieD

    Well worth a visit...

    It's got a lovely combination of excellent history well presented, and incredible scenery (and the café is pretty good too). The staff are extremely helpful - I drove my aging parents down to drop them off and I was going to return to the (free) public carparks at the top of the gorge - the staff told me I could park down at the bottom even though it's not officially allowed. Try to go on a day when the shut off the Hydro bypass so that they Falls of Clyde look their best. Standing in front of that waterwheel when it's in motion (last time I was there it was stopped for painting) can induce a stomach turning optical illusion.

    Last time I was there, I saw an Otter on the upper part of the Clyde walks, Peregrines are resident in the spring.

    1. AbelSoul
      Thumb Up

      Re: Well worth a visit...

      It is indeed. I took my elderly father there for a visit last year and we had a grand day out.

      From the article:

      It’s a lot to absorb. Fortunately, you can do so over lunch at the Mill Café which offers Victorian afternoon teas, plus you can sample the Mill’s own, home-made ice-creams – so good, they’ve earned a place on Scotland’s Ice Cream Trail.

      Said café also does a mighty fine fish supper, if the smile on the old man's face was anything to go by as he scranned it down.

  3. BD 1
    Thumb Up

    Not to forget the Youth Hostel

    Anent accommodation, there is also the SYHA Youth Hostel at South Lanark

    I absolutely agree that New Lanark is well worth a visit. There is also a fine walk up to the Falls of Clyde to complete the day out.

    Mind and body exercised in the one day.

  4. Phil Endecott

    Since our reporter found the walk back up the hill to the car park a bit of a challenge, I guess he didn't explore as far as the Falls Of Clyde (Corra Linn). In the Victorian era, this waterfall was a well known beauty spot with the likes of Wordsworth and Turner visiting and recording their impressions. But then in the 1920s most of the water was diverted into Scotland's first (of many) hydroelectric power stations. I recommend finding out when the power station is shut down for maintenance (a couple of times a year) and the waterfalls are in their natural state. And in the spring, you might get to see peregrine chicks nesting on the opposite cliff; there is a hide with telescopes from which you can view them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's not quite right - by 1920 the people of Fort Augustus had been enjoying hydro-powered street lighting for thirty years!

  5. Peter Simpson 1

    New England

    We have an old mill or two around where I live, as well. At age 10 or so, Mum took me to a still-working wool weaving mill in New Hampshire (apparently, she knew the owner or something, and we got a tour which you would certainly not be able to get today, even if the place was still running, which it is probably not). Impressive and noisy is all I remember.

    Lowell Massachusetts has a whole National Park built around the old mills (which, though I live within 50 miles, I have never seen...must remedy that).

    There is also, in Rhode Island, the New England Wireless and Steam Museum, which hosts an annual "Steam Up", where steam is generated and restored mill engines, rescued at not inconsiderable expense and effort (these things are big and were frequently below ground level) from abandoned and not-so-abandoned mills are powered up, as well as models brought by visitors. Well worth a visit if you're here at the appropriate time (which, this year, is Saturday, October 3)

    // no steam icon?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Empire of Cotton - background reading

    Empire of Cotton (cf. is a superb history of how the cotton industry triggered the Industrial Revolution, and drove the British Empire, and the American slave trade. It would be an excellent background read before/after a visit.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    rate this article

    32767 out of 32768. (deduct 1 because something's not quite right with the video playback here, but hey).

    Welcome back Bill. And what an article, what a subject, to return with.

    Burnham/Cooper/Kendall would do well to note, and if they can, understand. The other one already understands.

    Thank you, Robert Owen, and those who thought and did similar things. And thank you Bill, for reminding us.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Going backwards...

    "I know that a society may be formed so as to exist without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold"

    A pity David Cameron and his rich mates don't subscribe to the same philosophy! Poverty in this country is now rife, the NHS is being attacked under the guise of "austerity" and you only have to look at the comments section on any news article to figure out that intelligence and happiness are now in short supply.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Going backwards...

      Poverty is rife? You clearly didn't live in the 70s.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Going backwards...

        Actually I did live in the '70s, and was politically active then, as I am now. I can assure you that the poverty everywhere in England and Wales except the south-east of England is far worse now than it was then.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Going backwards...

          I too was around in the 1970s and can well believe the surveys that suggested that 1976 was actually "peak happiness" year for mainland Great Britain.

  9. jphn37

    WORSTALL! Please expound . . .

    Carnegie and Rockefeller also were philanthropists, like Bill Gates. But they built that on anti-competitive and monopolistic enterprises. I actually "admire" Bill Gates for creating a defacto monopoly in the modern era. So, is the free exercise of monopoly worth it for the X% of actors who will turn philanthropic?

    And what about companies that have social responsibility at their core? Ben and Jerry's perhaps?

    What are the economic drivers? What makes it possible or not?

    This is a fellow (*company, his heirs) who/that *could have gone on to buy Singer, or invested heavily in Westinghouse, etc. Was the greater good in worrying about his employees? or would the profits from the profitable mill, by the free power source, have been better used in creating wealth for investors and them/himself?

    It's both a specific example and a generalized philosophical viewpoint.

    Are today's companies ignoring their employees' needs to the detriment of their own future?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: WORSTALL! Please expound . . .

      Don't forget to mention all those hidden strings that seem to be attached to a lot of Mr Gates acts of philanthorpy that end up meaning more $$$$$ for his buddies at Microsoft. He's just following in the footsteps of Rockefeller etc.

    2. Tim Worstal

      Re: WORSTALL! Please expound . . .

      "And what about companies that have social responsibility at their core? Ben and Jerry's perhaps?

      What are the economic drivers? What makes it possible or not?


      The desires of the shareholders. It is their company, after all.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Companies Act 2006, S172

        Ben and Jerry's is now a Unilever company, courtesy of the shareholders. Unilever is sort of a descendant of Lever Brothers, who brought Port Sunlight, and Sunlight Soap, into the world. The Lever brothers had some things in common with Robert Owen. Most modern companies have eff all in common with Robert Owen and the Lever brothers and the original Cadburys/Rowntrees and...

        Mr Worstall, are you familiar at all with UK company law?

        If you were, you'd know that this business about "the interests of the shareholders must be paramount" (to coin a phrase) is BS.

        Section 172 of the 2006 Companies Act (below) specifically says company Directors must consider the interests of employees, suppliers, community, environment etc, and not just in a short term context either.

        Obviously nobody ever bothers with this, and the consequences of ignoring it are nil, but this is The Law as it has been in the UK for a few years, so would contributors please not repeat the mistaken claim that (UK) law says the shareholders always come first.

        Better still, if you see the claim repeated elsewhere, point out the Section 172 obligations go wider (significantly wider) than just maximising short term shareholder profit.

        From e.g.

        172 Duty to promote the success of the company

        (1)A director of a company must act in the way he considers, in good faith, would be most likely to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole, and in doing so have regard (amongst other matters) to—

        (a)the likely consequences of any decision in the long term,

        (b)the interests of the company's employees,

        (c)the need to foster the company's business relationships with suppliers, customers and others,

        (d)the impact of the company's operations on the community and the environment,

        (e)the desirability of the company maintaining a reputation for high standards of business conduct, and

        (f)the need to act fairly as between members of the company.

        (2)Where or to the extent that the purposes of the company consist of or include purposes other than the benefit of its members, subsection (1) has effect as if the reference to promoting the success of the company for the benefit of its members were to achieving those purposes.

        (3)The duty imposed by this section has effect subject to any enactment or rule of law requiring directors, in certain circumstances, to consider or act in the interests of creditors of the company.


  10. earl grey

    Great article

    And many thanks for writing about this. Not sure if i will ever be able to get there to visit, but did, many years ago, visit a working cotton mill in Tennessee. I know from first hand viewing how brown-lung happens, and the weaving of cotton material and the making of "prints" happens. It's all very interesting and now long gone and i doubt current generations will get that education. This beer's for you.

  11. BongoJoe

    Satanic Mills

    I do believe that the satanic mills long loved of verse and song actually referred to universities and not the mills of the cotton and woollen industries.


  12. dncnvncd

    In the end it takes doers and not dreamers. That's why New Harmony failed after buying a profitable enterprise from George Rapp's Harmonites. The intellectuals felt common labor was beneath them. Their employees were just plain lazy. Somehow these places become museums and celebrated as successes although at the time they were regarded as abject failures. Much of today's vaunted economy is driven by Third World child labor and U.S. illegal immigrants. The Satanic Mills grind merrily along.

  13. StudeJeff

    This is exactly the sort of cool historical place I love to visit, but I'm afraid a trip to the UK isn't happening any time soon.

    Great article though!

  14. Afernie

    I really ought to visit again soon

    Used to live up the road a bit - if you do visit it's also well worth a diversion to the Falls of Clyde Nature Reserve there.

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