Page last updated at 15:29 GMT, Thursday, 25 March 2010

Conserving a socialist utopia on the Clyde

The New Lanark World Heritage village in South Lanarkshire is one of Scotland's most popular rural visitor attractions.

Now the man who led the struggle to save the historical site from demolition is retiring after 36 years as director of the New Lanark Trust.

Dr Jim Arnold spoke to BBC Scotland about the role he played in preserving the 18th Century cotton mill village.


New Lanark
New Lanark is one of five Unesco World Heritage sites in Scotland

"It is such a fantastic place but it was in very poor condition when I first got involved in 1974," said Dr Arnold.

In the early 19th Century social reformer Robert Owen pioneered innovative conditions for the thousands of workers at New Lanark and inspired the co-operative movement.

"Originally there were four cotton mills here and they employed about 2,000 people.

"It was a big, big site, the biggest factory in the world in its day.

"The mills spun enough yarn to go around the world, every week," said the Trust Director.

Those mills were in continuous production from 1786 until 1968.

After they closed the site faced decay and dereliction and was in real danger of turning into no more than a pile of stones.

Dr Arnold recalled: "When the mill was closed in 1968 about 300 people lost their jobs and the future looked pretty doubtful.

By about 1988 we had the site looking presentable and people could see what went on inside the cotton mills
Dr Jim Arnold
New Lanark Trust

"A group of local people got together and formed a party to try to see what they could do to save this site of massive historical significance."

As a member of that group, Dr Arnold, a young college lecturer and historian, was tasked with the challenge of turning around New Lanark's fate.

"When I got involved in 1974 the site didn't look to have anything like a certain future but there were lots of people with the best of intentions who were going to do everything we could to restore New Lanark," he said.

Dr Arnold and the New Lanark Trust were keen to ensure the village remained a living, working community.

Housing at the site was restored and a water wheel was brought in from a derelict mill in Fife.

"By about 1988 we had the site looking presentable and people could see what went on inside the cotton mills," said Dr Arnold.

Tourist attraction

Today the site is home to about 200 people.

The Trust has three wholly-owned trading subsidiaries which operate a visitor centre, a hotel and self-catering apartments and rented properties in the village.

Hydro-electricity generated from the Falls of Clyde is supplied to the hotel and visitor centre buildings, with any surplus exported to the grid.

New Lanark
Dr Arnold said New Lanark was more than just a "museum piece"

One row of workers' housing has been converted into a 60-bed Youth Hostel, owned by the Trust.

"In 1974 we got about 1,000 visits a year, now we get 300,000," said Dr Arnold.

"In the end the recognition really came through us being made a World Heritage site and put on the Unesco list in 2001."

The mill village is one of only five Unesco World Heritage Sites in Scotland.

But as Dr Arnold prepares to step down as director of the Trust what kind of legacy does he hope to have left behind?

"The actual future of the site is now secure. It should always be here," he said.

"But I think it can do even more than it does at the moment.

"New Lanark is more than a museum piece. It is really an exemplar for the community history of the entire world."



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