|The Robert Owen Museum. Photo by "Indigo Goat" Some rights reserved|
Social Reform at New Lanark
"I was obliged to commence with a combination of vicious and inferior conditions - but conditions to which the population had long been accustomed, and to many of which they were strongly attached. I had to meet the objections of my partners, who were all good commercial men, and looked to a good return on their capital."
Robert Owen faced an uphill battle at New Lanark; at first the workers were suspicious of his new schemes, and his partners, whilst sympathetic, were worried about their investment. Despite these problems, he was determined to proceed with his experiment.
To begin with Robert Owen wanted to shorten the working day from 13 to 10 hours, but under pressure from his partners he had to increase it to 14 hours. This was a major setback, and a working day of 12 hours was not introduced until 1816. In other areas he was more successful; a minimum age of 10 was introduced for apprentices and only local children were employed.
Robert Owen did not limit his interests to the mill; he also wanted to improve the living conditions of his workers. He begun by improving the existing houses and building new ones, paving the streets and introducing a system of street cleaning. All private shops were closed and the company store opened by David Dale was improved and profits used to open a free village school.
Not content with improving living and working conditions, Robert Owen also tried to influence their moral standards. A system of local government was introduced and fines were imposed for drunkenness. In the factory the behaviour of the workers was recorded by the supervisors using "silent monitors". A coloured marker was displayed by each person's work place, black for bad behaviour, blue for indifferent, yellow for good and white for excellent. The system was very effective and slowly the number of yellow and white markers increased.