Let me tell you about a very special place in Scotland called New Lanark. We went there as part of our road trip from Scotland to Somerset recently. I had been anticipating this visit ever since we first started planning our trip overseas. I had almost visited New Lanark in 1993 whilst cycling across Scotland but the steep descent and inevitable ascent in perpetual drizzle had dissuaded me at the time. I regretted it ever since.
Perhaps you are wondering why I wanted to go there so much, what made it so yearnable. Well, I first read about New Lanark when I was studying the Industrial Revolution in university. I read about the founder, mill owner, visionary and philanthropist Robert Owen and his desire to show that factory work need not be necessarily exploitative and social regressive. He built high quality worker housing and established factory schools to ensure that factory children received an education even when they were working. Mind you everyone still had to be up by sparrows-fart and work till evening, six days a week, two days off every year. Conditions for the time were excellent but it was no leisured utopia.
Although in Owen’s time the mill spun cotton to be woven into cloth, the mill has been converted into a woollen mill – they spin woollen yarn. Did I say yarn? Yes, oooh yes. History and yarn together. And did I mention – it is all powered by water from the River Clyde. Perhaps it is just me, and judging from the number of people who were visiting, perhaps it really is just me…but that sounds WONDERFUL. That sounds EXCITING. So we went.
And I loved it soooo much. We walked down into the valley and saw the river, the waterwheel, the worker’s houses, the 19C classroom, Robert’s Owen’s house and all the spinning machinery. We smelled the machinery oil and the lanolin.
The Mill sources their fleeces from a wool broker. The yarn is blended from local fleeces (Cheviot, Swalesdale, Hebridean, Kent Romney, Jacob and Shetland) and New Zealand merino (it is a complicated world eh!). They are certified by the British Wool Marketing Board which means that the yarn has to be made up of at least 40% British wool. The different blends at New Lanark contain between 40% – 100% British wools. Fleeces are scoured and dyed in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, not too far away. The rest of the processing including carding, spinning and plying occurs at New Lanark. The carding machine is located in the gift shop and the smell of lanolin permeates the place.
You can see and purchase New Lanark woollen yarn at their on-line shop. They even have a shade card. Mine is now heavily annotated.