World Heritage
World Heritage

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World Heritage

2.5 Case studies

2.5.1 Case study: Industrial heritage in New Lanark, Scotland

To counter the claims of some that World Heritage is mainly concerned with ancient civilisations and the heritage of dominant elites, World Heritage has also embraced objects, places and practices more closely identified with ordinary people living and working in an industrial world rather than earlier times. Although the famous Wieliczka salt mine in Poland, inscribed in 1978, was the only industrial World Heritage site until the listing of Ironbridge in 1986, the years since have seen a growth in the numbers of such sites internationally. Among them is New Lanark, a former cotton mill, which has inspired me since boyhood. Industrial heritage has its critics, most famously in the UK where Hewison (1987, especially pp. 41–7) explained its growth as a phenomenon reflecting past industrial and technical achievements in a climate of contracting manufacture and economic decline. Its rise, he thought, was partly a response to misplaced nostalgia for working-class life in communities undergoing rapid change and in some cases a response to the cataclysmic decline in heavy industries such as mining and metallurgy.

Despite the critique, and long before Hewison disseminated his ideas, I believed that the ‘gilt on the gingerbread approach’ to heritage needed revision and became involved in the promotion of industrial heritage in the UK, Australia and elsewhere. As co-editor of a journal devoted to industrial archaeology and history I came into contact with many practitioners committed to broadening the scope of heritage and over the years since have been involved with the team working on the restoration and promotion of New Lanark, one of a clutch of sites inscribed in 2000–1 (Historic Scotland, 2000). Its story illustrates the long-term trajectory that is often required to see such large-scale projects through to a successful conclusion. Even then, issues remain as to how such sites can be managed in future.

At first sight New Lanark looks like a piece of the early industrial revolution frozen in time, but its importance extends beyond the obvious to include important associations with Robert Owen, the social reformer, who used it as a test bed for his ideas (Figures 6 and 7). Moreover it is located near the Falls of Clyde, like the English Lakes, a major attraction for romantic tourists during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Donnachie, 2004). The mills, begun in 1785 by David Dale, a prominent Scottish business man, became the largest of their kind for the period, with a workforce of over 2000. The adjacent village, built into the valley sides, provided housing and other facilities for the workers, many recruited from the Scottish Highlands or the cities. Dale was widely celebrated for his philanthropy, particularly in his treatment of child apprentices recruited to work in his mills. While large factories with paternalistic regimes were unusual, New Lanark was already attracting large numbers of visitors, presumably reform-minded, including many from overseas.

Figure 6 New Lanark World Heritage site, showing the former Owen House (foreground) with the workers’ housing beyond. Photographed by Findlay. Photo: © Findlay/Alamy.

In 1799 Dale sold the mills to a Manchester firm and Owen, a youthful but successful entrepreneur, became manager. He introduced a raft of workplace and community reforms aimed at improving efficiency, raising productivity, and improving the environment and social conditions. By 1812 he was promoting popular education, in particular ‘character formation’ which would be a basis for social reform. His ideas found expression in his essay ‘A New View of Society’ (Owen, 2004) which proposed education as a means of improvement for the working classes, exemplified from his experience at New Lanark, and suggested a plan of social regeneration with national, indeed international, application. In the troubled times following the end of the Napoleonic War these ideas proved attractive to elites who felt threatened by disorder, and after 1817, apparently Owen’s ‘millennial moment’, he was describing an ambitious plan for ‘Villages of Unity and Mutual Co-operation’ as the basis for social recovery. In 1816 he opened his Institute for the Formation of Character, followed thereafter by a school. He also played a prominent role in factory reform. This frenzied activity and widespread propaganda made Owen famous and thousands descended on his community, though in declining numbers after 1825 when he quit New Lanark for another community experiment in the USA (Donnachie, 2004). Owen was always controversial, partly because of his attacks on sectarianism, which he saw as undermining his ‘New Moral World’ and the promotion of community and cooperation instead of competition. After 1830 the man became a movement with numerous Owenite organisations dedicated to advancing his ideas. In the end Owen made little headway, but his followers proved highly influential in almost every popular reform movement of the nineteenth century including the campaign for compulsory education.

Figure 7 New Lanark World Heritage site, showing (from the left) the former cotton mills, the rear elevation of Owen’s Institute, and Owen’s School for Children. Unknown photographer. Photo: © South West Images Scotland/ Alamy.

For more than a century after Owen’s death in 1858 people were attracted to New Lanark, which was seen as an icon for his ideas on industrial relations, corporate philanthropy, cooperation and social reform. Among the visitors were many from the USA and Japan, which helped maintain the profile of the place and may even have been an inducement to the owners to keep the village in a reasonable state of repair. Although the company and the local authorities were well aware of the village’s history, the challenge of refurbishment was beyond their resources. When the factory ultimately closed in 1968, the decay was rapid, though a housing association had started to modernise some of the workers’ housing and in 1971 gained a Civic Trust Award for this work and the first formal recognition of the village’s architectural importance. Unfortunately, as is often the case, an unsympathetic industry, in this case scrap metal extraction, moved in on the mills and the threat to their future was soon obvious. The turning point came in 1973–4 with the establishment of the New Lanark Conservation Trust, which thanks to local and national support acquired the mills and began the painstaking task of restoration. New Lanark, like many other heritage projects of the period, became a significant player in employment creation, with a major multiplier effect on the local economy.

Work began on the housing, with a mix of rented apartments controlled by the housing association and other tenement blocks restored by private owners to designated plans drawn up by the conservation trust. The communal buildings, including Owen’s Institute and School for Children were then restored, while the mills were converted to offices with large areas devoted to a museum and interpretation facilities. In the centre of the village, several of the rooms in Owen’s house were restored in period fashion. The basement contains an interpretation devoted to his community experiment at New Harmony in the USA and later ventures in Owenism. Across the street a tenement house was left with its original fittings to display the contrasting living conditions of a typical mill family. The company store was retained to emphasise Owen’s concern for fair trade, connection to consumer cooperation and use of profits for the school. The first of Dale’s mills, Mill No. 1, was converted to a hotel, which ultimately boasted a conference centre and comprehensive leisure facilities, while a youth hostel opened in one of the tenement blocks at the southern end of the village. A turbine that drove the machinery in the mills now powers the whole complex and New Lanark is also a net exporter to the national grid. Latterly the trust was assisted by European and Heritage Lottery funding and the Scottish government.

A World Heritage nomination was put forward in 1986 and after a gap of many years (being included in the Tentative List of 1999) the site was inscribed in 2001 (Historic Scotland, 2000). First Minister for Scotland Donald Dewar believed New Lanark had waited too long, and was instrumental in successfully promoting its case. The restoration of the mills and village was thus a long-term project of over 40 years’ duration but it has brought enormous benefits (Arnold, 2000; Donnachie and Hewitt, 1999). Revitalisation has had a major impact on the local community and region with Lanark itself the object of building restorations and streetscape schemes, major housing projects, a new green-field agricultural market and the inevitable retail parks. The new developments have, however, put a major strain on infrastructure, notably access roads and other utilities. Some think that New Lanark has received too much attention and investment at the expense of other local projects, a common problem it seems when professionals move in on heritage sites.

Last, although New Lanark does not suffer from the ‘pain and shame’ of ‘difficult heritage’, it presents interesting problems of interpretation largely arising from the controversies surrounding Robert Owen. While these are more about history than heritage, they present interesting issues. How and why was a successful capitalist and corporate philanthropist reinvented as the ‘Father of Socialism’ and what part did New Lanark play in the story? Some of the answers are to be found in the place itself, which beyond interpretation presents many issues of site policy and management common to such monuments.

Reflecting on the case study

New Lanark has been an enormous success and has gained many plaudits and awards for the long-term commitment of its trust and management to restoration. At the time of writing it attracts 350,000 or more visitors per annum, approximately a quarter paying for entry to its attractions. The hotel, conference centre and other facilities are also very successful, and there is a vigorous programme of cultural and other events. There is a strong relationship with bodies promoting the splendid environment and natural history, notably the Scottish Wildlife Trust, which has a visitor centre in the village. New Lanark strikes an interesting balance in the way it presents itself, from its ideological links to workers’ welfare, socialism and the cooperative movement on the one hand, to management psychology and corporate philanthropy on the other. The associations with Robert Owen give New Lanark a unique dimension since interest in his ideas on industrial relations, education, welfare, cooperation, citizenship and environment have resonance with modern global problems. Indeed, Owen and New Lanark seem to transcend the political divide for this very reason. But with that said, New Lanark presents a range of issues about management and interpretation typical of industrial heritage everywhere.

A further interesting spin-off from World Heritage is the World Heritage City, the earliest designations including Kracow (Poland), Quito (Ecuador), Monastir (Tunisia) and Stockholm (Sweden) in 1978. Subsequent designations have created a list of 242 (at the time of writing), of which more than half are located in Europe and North America. Another international organisation set up to service and promote these cities (independent of UNESCO), the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC), is based in Quebec, Canada. Some of these cities are less familiar than others and it would be interesting to know how they made it on to the list (Organization of World Heritage Cities, 2008). Bath and Edinburgh, splendid Georgian creations, have Remarkable architectural heritages of that period as well as histories of importance pre-dating the 1700s by many centuries. Together they provide useful examples of heritage cities and the issues they raise.


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