The rebirth of New Lanark

The inside of Jim and Rose Arnold's house is not what you'd expect from the outside. As you enter it from the narrow downhill street, it simply appears to be what, in fact, it has been for the last 200 years: the topmost unit in an old , dark, cramped row of unimaginative 18th-century housing for millworkers.

But inside, 10 Braxfield Row, New Lanark, is light and sunny, whitewalled and spacious, furnished with straightforward taste, comfortably modern.

You might anticipate something of the view from the sitting-room window, though not perhaps its airy extent, over the chimney pots and slated roofs of old sandstone terraces to a steeply rising hillside clothed with trees and fields, with the River Clyde rushing at its feet.

For nearly two hardworking centuries - until they closed in 1968 - the cotton mills, now standing in grim emptiness (but also strangely moving nostalgia) at the bottom of the village, were the be-all and end-all of New Lanark. This entire village existed because of these mills and because of the water power provided by the Clyde. New Lanark still stands as a nearly unspoiled monument to the early, ambitious years of the Industrial Revolution.

When the mills shut down (they were sold in 1970 to a scrap metal merchant who cared little for their upkeep), the village faced virtual dereliction. Despite efforts by the New Lanark Housing Association, which had bought all the housing for a nominal $: 250 in 1963 and had renewed some of it, it nevertheless looked by 1974 as though ''physical collapse and demolition,'' as Jim Arnold puts it, was to be New Lanark's fate.

Fortunately, the gloomy prognostications were reversed. The ''revivifiers'' moved in. The New Lanark Conservation Trust was formed to pool the efforts of parties concerned for the survival of the village, and to do what none of them could do alone: to restore New Lanark and give it a new lease on life.

Jim and Rose Arnold know all about it. They have lived here now for nine years. He is the manager of the Conservation Trust and assistant secretary of the Housing Association. If the village has a ''boss,'' it is he.

The physical restoration of New Lanark is a slow, labor-intensive, thorough business. ''It's a precarious job,'' Mr. Arnold says. ''The restoration is running on a shoestring. I had a three-year contract to start with - and then I got promoted to a one-year contract!'' But the fact that he and his wife sold their house down south and bought and restored 10 Braxfield Row indicates the strength of their commitment to New Lanark.

Early in the village's history, it was owned in essence by one man - David Dale, who built the houses and mills in this wooded gorge of the Clyde. Exactly 200 years ago, this prosperous cloth merchant and his friend Richard Arkwright (inventor of the spinning frame) stood by the Falls of Clyde and realized the possibility of harnessing the water power. Within 10 years their dream had come true: New Lanark existed, and some 1,500 workers lived and labored in it. Arkwright thought it could grow to become the ''Manchester of Scotland.''

He was wrong. New Lanark remained compact - although at the height of its success it did employ as many as 2,000 people.

In 1984, in the gradually reawakening new New Lanark, a mere 135 villagers live here. The final aim is a population no larger than 250 to 300. The Arnolds' house occupies a space that would have once been the homes (they were one-room homes) of 30 to 40 millworkers. In Caithness Row, restored by the Housing Association in the '60s, 30 people now live where 300 used to.

Nevertheless, in its day New Lanark was famous as an enlightened example of good housing and excellent working conditions. It was David Dale's son-in-law, Robert Owen, who brought the greatest distinction and progress to New Lanark. This still-famous reformer, inspired propagandist, grandfather of socialism, and paternalist cotton spinner has been described by a recent historian as a strange mixture of ''Tory and revolutionary.'' In the United States, he is remembered as the one-time owner of New Harmony, Ind. But it was New Lanark, Scotland, that gave him the money and the context for trying many of his new, rationalist ideas.

''It is Owen's philosophy which really does lift New Lanark onto a different plane,'' says Mr. Arnold. Many other mill villages are extant in Britain. Few are as early or complete as New Lanark, or as beautifully sited from a scenic standpoint, or as unswallowed by later building. But Owen's influence on the place is what makes it unique. It is this, above all, that has convinced so many people that it must be saved. It is this that brings an ever-increasing flow of tourists here.

''It's one of the few places,'' the manager continues, ''where you can see a rationalist philosophy actually laid out in bricks and mortar on the ground, where you actually have the 'Nursery Buildings,' and the 'Cooperative Store,' and the 'Counting House,' and the 'Institute for the Formation of Character,' and the 'School for Children.' ''

These buildings are the evidence of Owen's advanced theories and practice in caring for, educating, and not overworking children - of making millworkers happy and healthy as well as productive.

Only in the last few months have the remaining unprotected parts of the village, the mills and Owen's institute, come into the hands of the conservationists. It was a long battle. But at last the scrap metal company yielded to a compulsory purchase order and left.

This means, of course, that now a great deal more work stretches out in front of the Conservation Trust. Many plans are afoot. Rows of houses are still being steadily restored, either as rentable flats (apartments) or houses, or as ''owner-restorer'' houses like the Arnolds'. The ''School for Children,'' residents hope, will soon be ready as a center for the many parties of 1980s schoolchildren brought to see this village as ''one of the roots of modern society,'' in Jim Arnold's words.

Owen's ideas were a couple of centuries ahead of his time. Dancing, music, and nature were strongly emphasized. Perhaps today's visiting children will be taken on a short walk in the nature reserve bordering the river here - also a popular tourist attraction to the vicinity. Parts of it are long-established deciduous woodland, and badgers, kingfishers, red squirrels, and many kinds of plant life can be observed, residents say. In fact, New Lanark is an exceptionally beautiful amalgam of archaeological history and natural history. The residents enjoy it too: Jim Arnold watched a family of foxes at play near his house one day.

Other plans include the reinstatement of a giant and magnificent Victorian steam engine (bought from the mill), and a museum of New Lanark life in one of the houses. The complete interior of one of the original millworkers' houses, just as it was, will be reconstructed in the institute so that the expected hordes of visitors can see it easily.

One floor of the best-preserved mill, No. 3, with its elegant cast-iron column and jack-arch ceiling construction, its steel floor, and its large, light windows, will be open to visitors. Another of its seven floors might be turned into luxury houses. A new waterwheel might be installed.

Tourism is going to be the major raison d'etre of the revitalized New Lanark. The villagers - particularly the older ones who saw it almost die in the '60s and have now come back to live here - actually quite enjoy the tourists. ''Every visitor, in a way, is a confirmation of the importance of the village,'' says the manager - and of course of its steady renewal.

What sort of village is it going to become? Not, perhaps, quite ''Owenite.'' But its mixture of rentable and privately owned housing promises a population with a wide social spectrum.

''At the moment,'' Jim Arnold says, ''we have a lorry driver, a senior male nurse, a road worker, a building-site agent, a university lecturer, a jeweler (one of the several craft workers attracted here), a company director, an architect, a plumber, a North Sea oil rig worker, a computer programmer/salesman , a fireman, a car mechanic, Clyde Valley's tourist manager, a hospital laboratory technician, a teacher, a mechanical engineer. There are about 20 children, and several retired people. It's really quite unpredictable,'' he adds , ''who will choose to come and live here.''

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