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New Lanark 1800 - 1825
54 I had often to return to Glasgow to see Mr Dale respecting the change of proprietorship of the establishment, and his cold and distant manner to me gradually diminished, until he received me in a friendly manner. At length, Mr Dale consented to accept me for his son-in-law, and our marriage was fixed for the 30th of September. 55 My property by this time had accumulated to three thousand pounds. Mr Dale proposed to give three thousand with his daughter.
Our marriage took place in Mr Dale’s house. The ceremony was according to the marriage rites of Scotland and surprised me not a little. Mr Dale was there to give his daughter to me, and the younger sisters of Miss Dale for her bride’s maids. The minister requested Miss Dale and me to stand up, and asked each of us if we were willing to take the other for husband or wife, and each simply nodding assent, he said, without one word more – “Then you are married, and you may sit down”, and the ceremony was all over.
56 It was thought necessary that I take the immediate direction of our Scotch business. 78 I had but one-ninth interest in the partnership, but I had one thousand a year as sole manager. 56 I entered upon the government of New Lanark about the first of January, 1800. I say ‘government’ – for my intention was not to be a mere manager of cotton mills, but to introduce principles in the conduct of the 57 people, which I had successfully commenced in Mr Drinkwater’s factory, and to change the conditions of the people, who, I saw, were surrounded by circumstances having an injurious influence upon the character of the entire population of New Lanark.
I found my task full of formidable obstacles. The former managers had their own views, directly opposed to mine. I expected little assistance from them. 59 They both left New Lanark.
57 The people had been collected hastily from any place from whence they could be induced to come. They were surrounded by bad conditions, which had misformed their characters. The great majority of them were idle, intemperate, dishonest, devoid of truth, and pretenders to religion, which they supposed would excuse all their immoral proceedings.
I soon found that a reconstruction of the whole establishment would be necessary. I wished to make the old superintendents of the different departments my agents for the intended changes. But for new measures it was necessary to have new men, for the old ones preferred to leave their situations, rather than be engaged in a work of such reform as I contemplated, which they said was impracticable.
I had every bad habit of the people to overcome. Theft was very general and Mr Dale’s property had been plundered in all directions. 58 There were two ways to govern the population. 1st, by contending against the people,– to have many of them tried for theft, some imprisoned and transported, others condemned to death. This has ever been the practice of society. Or 2ndly, to consider these unfortunately placed people the creatures of ignorance and vicious circumstances, for which society alone was responsible. I had to change their evil conditions for good ones and thus, in due course, to supersede bad characters by good. This required illimitable patience, forbearance and determination.
59 I had learnt through experience and reflection 58 “that the character of each of our race is formed by God or nature and by society: 59 that none can form his own character”. I decided to govern New Lanark according to these new views – to commence the most 60 important experiment for the happiness of the human race yet instituted. My friends smiled at what they called my simplicity and urged me not to attempt such a hopeless impossibility. My mind, however, was prepared for the task.
The population of New Lanark consisted of about 1,3000 settled in the village as families, and between 400 and 500 pauper children, whose ages appeared to be from five to ten, but were said to be from seven to twelve. These children were by Mr Dale’s directions well lodged, fed and clothed. An attempt was made to teach them to read, and some of the oldest to write, after the business of the long day was over. But the children were exhausted, and many of then fell asleep during the school hours. The schoolmaster was kind and considerate, but what could he do with 400 or 500 children? The whole system was wretchedly bad.
I determined therefore 61 that no more pauper children should be received; that the village houses and streets should be improved, and new and better houses erected to receive new families in place of the pauper children; and that the interior of the mills should be rearranged, and the old machinery replaced by new. These changes were to be made gradually, and to be effected by the profits of the establishment. 62 My partners were all commercial men, and expected a profit in addition to interest for their capital.
61 My first task was to supersede the evil conditions with which the population was surrounded by good conditions. The profession of religion was essential for anyone to become respectable in any part of Scotland, and thus profession was deemed by many all that was necessary. Correct conduct was in much less estimation.
62 The evil conditions I had to contend against were the ignorance, superstition and consequent immoral conduct and bad habits of the population; the long day’s work which they had to undergo; the inferior qualities and high price of everything which they had to purchase; the bad arrangements in their houses for rearing and training their children; and their prejudices against an English manufacturer becoming a hard task master, because I was going to adopt new-fangled measures.
The workpeople were systematically opposed to every change which I proposed, and did whatever they could to frustrate my object. I was prepared for these obstructions. My intention was to gain their confidence despite their prejudice to a stranger from a foreign country, as they considered England to be. My language was different from their lowland Scotch and the highland erse (they had a large mixture of highlanders amongst them).
63 I had great difficulty in teaching them cleanly habits, and order, and system in their proceedings. The retail shops, in all of which spirits were sold, were great nuisances. All the articles sold were bought on credit at high prices to cover great risks, and the qualities were most inferior. I arranged superior stores and shops, from which to supply every article of food, clothing etc. which they required. I bought everything in the first markets on a large scale, and had articles of the best quality supplied to the people at cost price. This saved them full twenty-five per cent. The effects soon became visible in their improved health and superior dress, and in the general comfort of their houses.
71 I had one son born in a year after my marriage,– but he died in infancy. Another, named Robert Dale, was born the end of the second year, William Dale two years afterwards. Then followed two daughters – Anne Caroline and Jane Dale – about two years between each. Then David Dale and Richard, and my youngest daughter, Mary, closed the number of my family.
In the summer we lived in the cottage in the gardens in the centre of the village, and in winter we resided with my father-in-law in Charlotte Street, Glasgow. I rode on horse-back frequently to and fro from Glasgow where our warehouses and counting houses were situated.
Mr Dale was much attached to the family. He was one of the most conscientious and kind-hearted men I have ever met. Our religious notions were very different, but we had many friendly discussions on religion.72 He often concluded our discussions by saying – “Thou needest be very right, for thou art very positive.”
80 After I had the confidence of the work-people, that which I found the most efficient check upon inferior conduct was the contrivance of a silent monitor – a four-sided piece of wood, each side coloured, tapered at the top, to hang upon a hook with either side to the front. One of these was suspended in a conspicuous place near each person employed, and the colour at the front told the conduct of the individual during the preceding day – black, bad; blue, indifferent; 81 yellow, good; and white, excellent. It was gratifying to observe the new spirit created by these silent monitors. At the commencement, the great majority were black; they were gradually succeeded by blue, and then by yellow, and some white.
83 In searching out the evil conditions in which the workpeople were involved, their domestic arrangements for rearing their children from infancy appeared to me especially injurious. With the limited space in these dwellings, young children were always in the way of their parents, who were altogether ignorant of the right method of treating children.
84 I wished to take these children out of those evil conditions. To erect a building for my purpose would require about five thousand pounds, but this I estimated would be amply repaid by the improved character of the children. I had then to overcome the prejudices of the parents against sending their children so young to school. And I was opposed in all my views by the parish minister.
While in Manchester, my mind had been deeply impressed with the importance of education. I watched Lancaster in his early attempts to instruct the poor, and assisted him, from first to last, with a thousand pounds. When the church of England set up Dr Bell in opposition to Lancaster, I offered his committee a like amount if they would open the national schools to children of every creed, but only half the sum if they persisted in their rule. They decided to keep their doors closed against dissent, and 85 I thus saved my five hundred pounds.
I began in 1809 to clear the foundation for the infant and other schools. 84 I had to meet the objections of my partners, who looked for a good return for their capital. 85 I explained to them my intended measures, step by step, and the beneficial effects which I expected. Their spokesman replied, “Each of your propositions is true individually; but as they lead to conclusions contrary to our education 86 and practices, they must in the aggregate be erroneous. We cannot proceed on such new principles for extending this already very large establishment.”
My reply was, “I can direct this establishment only upon principles, which appear to me to be true, and through the practice which hitherto has been successful.” Seeing them hesitate, I said, “If you are afraid to proceed with me, I will offer you a sum for the establishment, which I will either give for it, or accept from you”. The reply was, “Your offer is fair and liberal. What is the sum you fix as its value?” I said, “Eighty-four thousand pounds”. After conversing among themselves, they replied “We accept your offer, and the establishment is yours”
Two wealthy Glasgow merchants, the sons-in-law of Mr Campbell of Zura, had previously made applications to join me in partnership. They now joined me in the business [with] a partner [of one of them] and Mr Atkinson, a partner in the [old] “New Lanark Twist Company”, and we commenced under the new firm of the “New Lanark Company”.
87 Our late firm had continued for ten years, and, after paying the capitalists five per cent per annum for their capital, the profits to the firm amounted to sixty thousand pounds.
I had the greatest share in the new partnership of five, and I retained the thousand a year for the management of the concern. The new firm was proceeding successfully, and I had commenced building the new schools for the formation of character, when I discovered a strong spirit of dissatisfaction in the two sons-in-law of Mr Campbell. They had learnt that he had deposited twenty thousand pounds with me in preference to them, and they became very jealous of me in consequence.
They objected to the building for the schools, and all the improvements I had in progress for the increased comforts of the villagers. They objected to my scale of wages for the people, and of salaries to the superintendents, which upon principle, and also for ultimate profit, were what the public deemed liberal.
They gave me formal notice not to proceed with the schools. I then said –“As I see you do not like my mode of managing, I resign as exclusive manager, I will relinquish the salary rather than be obliged to proceed contrary to my convictions.” This did not satisfy their wounded feelings. They would dissolve the partnership, and the works should be sold by public auction.
88 Although I had more than seventy thousand pounds invested in the establishment, they refused to give me any part of it until after the sale, and I was obliged to borrow for my domestic expenditure. They said they did not think the establishment now worth forty thousand pounds. Their object was to depreciate the property, that they might purchase it enormously below its value.
89 During this year (1813), 88 I went to London sometime before the sale, to see to the printing and publication of four essays which I had written on the formation of character.
89 I was also engaged in forming a new partnership for carrying forward the establishment at New Lanark. I was completely tired of partners who were merely trained to buy cheap and sell dear. I circulated a pamphlet with a view to obtaining partners who would assist my intended future operations. Such partners I found in Mr John Walker of Arno’s Grove, Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher, Joseph Foster of Bromley, William Allen of Plough Court, Joseph Fox, dentist, and Michael Gibbs, subsequently Lord Mayor of London.
90 [They] asked me the price which I thought the property was now worth. I said we should not let it be purchased from us at less than £120,000. It was concluded that I should be empowered to bid to that amount. On the morning of the sale, I instructed my solicitor, Mr Alexander Macgregor, to bid for me. The sale had excited great interest in Glasgow, for I had become very popular in Scotland.
91 The sale commenced, and the property was put up at £60,000. Mr Macgregor bid £100 more. My opponents bid £900 more, Mr Macgregor £100 more. This mode of bidding continued until £84,100 when my opponents retired to consult together. They returned and bid £400 more, Mr Macgregor immediately bidding £100 more. As the bidding advanced to £100,000 my opponents became pale and agitated and again retired to consult.
Returning, they resumed bidding, £100 more each time, until they bid £110,000 and Mr Macgregor £110,100. Their agitation now became excessive, and their lips blue. They again retired to consult. They returned more excited than ever and carried on bidding as before until £114,000. Mr Macgregor immediately bid £114,100, and then my opponents finally stopped bidding, and the property was knocked down to me.
94 The new partnership [was] 95 formed of 13 shares, each of £10,000, of which I held five, Mr Walker three, Mr Foster one and Mr Allen one, all members of the society of friends. Mr Bentham, 96 Mr Fox and Mr Gibbs [each] had one share. 95 I proposed that, over 5 per cent for our capital and risk, the surplus gains should be freely expended for the education of the children and the improvement of the workpeople of New Lanark.
96 After the transfer of the property was legally executed, we went to Lanark in a coach with four horses. A few miles from Lanark, 97 we saw a great multitude running towards us. They called out to the postillions to stop the horses and untraced them from the carriage and they began to drag the carriage themselves, quicker than our horses could have dragged us up those steep hills. Our reception at Old Lanark was most cordial, the windows and doors being filled with women and children, to the astonishment of my Quaker friends. We were taken through all the streets of New Lanark, where gratitude, affection and delight were expressed in the countenances of [those at] the windows and in the street. It was a day which I shall never forget.
98 The annoyance of my late partners was increased not a little, when upon balancing the accounts of our four years partnership, it was found, after allowing five per cent for the capital employed, that the net profit was £160,000. I now had a new field opening to me, and I commenced by hastening the building for the infant and other schools.
99 After Mr Dale’s death, my wife’s four younger sisters lived with us for some years. As the house at the mills had become too small, I took a lease on Braxfield House, about quarter of a mile from New Lanark, and the seat of the late Lord of Session, Lord Braxfield. It was a beautifully situated residence, and I improved the grounds.