My high-school history curriculum included something on the Utopians of 18th-19th centuries, and although I could no longer recall the particulars the name of Robert Owen was definitely familiar to me. So it was not only for opportunistic reasons that I planned a visit to New Lanark on our journey around Scotland – I actually wanted to add some visuals to my vague recollection of a model Utopian community.
New Lanark is recognized on the UNESCO list as a purpose-built town meant to put in practice the ideals of the Utopian vision: a society without crime, poverty or misery, where the well-being of every individual is of paramount interest to all. I think it is fair to say that this vision never took hold anywhere to the degree Owen and his contemporaries hoped for, but its underpinning values certainly had an impact on the history of humankind ever since.
In order to get a full taste of these Utopian values in New Lanark, one probably has to take in several museums and exhibitions located in its spaces. Unfortunately in our case, we could not budget time for more than a short visit – less than an hour to walk through the town and take some pictures. The architecture – multi-storied austere dwellings in an elongated pattern – is certainly unique, especially contrasted with the traditional Scottish countryside style. You can begin to appreciate the theme of good proportion, good masonry, and simplicity of detail, by just looking at the buildings from the outside. But I am belatedly disappointed that a more in-depth exploration was not possible within our itinerary.
I suspect that two to three hours is the minimum required to get well-acquainted with all New Lanark has to offer.
An extended gallery can be found in my Flickr photostream.