New Lanark and Efficiency Wages




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A benevolent employer


Unlike the majority of employers of the Industrial Revolution, Robert Owen took the well-being of his workers into consideration in his plans. This did not always produce agreeable relationships with his partners; many were purely concerned with commercial interests. For example his plans to build a school in 1809 led to the dissolution of his first partnership, and again in 1813 when his new partners showed concern, with good reason, over Owen’s management of finances.
Nevertheless the humanitarian system of management Owen introduced was remarkably advanced for the early 19th century, years before factory legislation had become effective. He achieved the disciplining of his workforce without resorting to violence, through the introduction of silent monitors. Working hours were reduced, and wages were still paid to workers during the 1807 American embargo of cotton, when high prices forced production to be halted in the mills. It was through such measures that Owen gained popularity amongst the New Lanark villagers, overcoming the resistance he had met from workers during his first few years of factory reform in the mills.
It must be noted, however, that the changes made at New Lanark took place without consulting those who would be affected most by them i.e. the workers. Owen’s “humanitarian” intentions were aimed at what he labelled his “human engines”, who were compelled to adopt whatever measures Owen believed necessary for the creation of a happy and efficient workforce. Not surprisingly, some of his ideas were met with opposition from the New Lanark villagers. Furthermore, although Owen became famous for being a benevolent employer, other mill managers were also known to have cared for their workers; the majority did not receive the credit and fame that Owen acclaimed. For example, Findlay, who ran Deanston’s mill in Stirlingshire, created a model village with school, sick-fund, village store, and positive incentives to encourage home care.

Wages at New Lanark


In comparison to other establishments, the wages at New Lanark were not specifically high, thus reducing the costs incurred by Owen. Nonetheless the low wages were compensated for by low rents, an inexpensive village store, excellent educational provision and medical care.
Wages in the New Lanark Mills in 1800

Millwrights

12 – 14/3 per week

Wood Turners

8/9 – 10/9 per week

Hagmen for turners

7/6 – 8/9 per week

Joiners for Jobbing

8/ - 14/3 per week

Doorkeepers and watchmen

7/4- 8/ per week

Masons for repairs

9/ - 10/ per week

Wages would increase according to skill, age and experience

Source: New Lanark Mills Wages Book for 1800


Owen’s salary as managing partner, in this same year, was £1,000 per annun, the equivalent to the income of a prosperous laird or merchant. He had quite obviously landed himself in a very comfortable position on the transfer of ownership from Dale, establishing generous terms with his father-in-law on his salary, and the repayment of the £60,000 sale. For this reason, many have doubted Owen’s marriage to Caroline as one of love, condemning the arrangement as one which placed Owen, first and foremost as Dale’s entrepreneurial heir.

High wages it is quite manifest are not the cause of comfort which prevails here. Amongst us their earnings would be thought low. The wages of those under 18 years of age, per week, are, for the males that work by day, 4s 3d; for the females 3s 5d; and for those that week by the piece, 5s.4d for the former, and 4s,7d for the latter…..Every person in this establishment contributes one sixtieth part of his wages to a common fund which is appropriated to his relief, in the time of sickness, besides which there is a savings’ bank for the work people, whose deposits as taken last Christmas, amounted to £3,193 14s. 10d.

There are stores also from which the people are supplied with all the necessities of life. They have a credit there to the amount of 16 shillings a week, but may deal elsewhere if the choose. “

R. Southey 1819 writes of conditions at New Lanark in “Journal of a Tour of Scotland”

Typical Prices in Lanarkshire in the 1790s (the village store may have been cheaper)

Veal 4d-6d per pound

Butter 8 ½ d – 10 d per pound

Lamb 5d per pound

Eggs 4d – 7d per dozen

Hens 1s.3d. – 1s.6d per pound

Sweet Milk 2d per Scotch Pint

Beef and Mutton 3 ½d - 4 ½d per pound

Churned Milk ¾ d per pound

Source: The Old statistical Account for Scotland

“In one of our walks, we met a woman with a choice piece of beef, purchased at the (New Lanark) establishment. She told us that she had paid only 7d. per lb. And that she could not have bought is under 10d. in Glasgow market.”



Extract from “The New Views of Mr Owen, impartially examined” By Dr H McNab (1819)

It can be suggested therefore, that if being “better off” is judged not solely on income, and includes quality of life and standard of living, then the people of New Lanark (with their village store, good solid homes, education system, good factory conditions etc) were certainly in a comfortable position.

Housing Rent

In 1830 rent was recorded as follows:



-deducted from wages at fixed rates monthly; lowest rent for two rooms was £3 and highest about £5 (per annum)
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