New Lanark World Heritage Site Blog

February 21, 2018 at 3:06 pm

New Lanark and Nicholas I of Russia…

New Lanark and Nicholas I of Russia…

200 years on, GYRE in Moffat are celebrating the anniversary of Nicholas I’s visit to Scotland in 1816.

Nicholas I (6 July 1796 – 2 March 1855) was Emperor of Russia from 1825 until 1855 and he was known as one of the most reactionary of the Russian monarchs. His brother Alexander I was Emperor of Russia from 1801 to 1825.

The future emperor’s first guardian and instructress was a Scottish nurse, Miss Jane Lyon, who stayed with Nicholas constantly during the first seven years of his life. From Miss Lyon he learned many things including “the Russian alphabet, his first Russian prayers, and his hatred of the Poles”. [i]

To complete his education, Grand Duke Nicholas was sent on two educational voyages: a tour of Russia from May to September 1816 and a tour of Great Britain from November 1816 to January 1817.  While he was on his way to Britain Nicholas visited Berlin where he met his future wife Louisa Charlotte Wilhelmina, eldest daughter of the King of Prussia. Nicholas and Louisa were married at St. Petersburgh in July 1817.

[i]     Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia: 1825-1855. Nicholas Valentine Riasanovsky (University of California Press, 1974)


On 27 December 1816 Nicholas 1 visited New Lanark…

The New Lanark Village Instrumental Band played for Nicholas and his retinue. Although the Grand Duke was generally favourably impressed with Owen’s plans for creating model communities it seems that the music was considered by his Highness to be indifferent in quality. [i]

Robert gave the Grand Duke Mrs. Owen’s silver dessert set as a memento of his visit and the rest of Robert’s family were upset at his generosity towards such a hugely wealthy man. [ii] New Picture

The writings of Malthus was a hot topic at the time and Robert Owen relates that in a two hour conversation with the Grand Duke, before he left, he said: “As your country is over-peopled, I will take you and two millions of population with you, all in similar manufacturing communities”. Robert politely declined the offer. [iii]

One of Robert Owen’s biographers notes that “the date of the visit was December 26. The Grand Duke left on the following day for Moffat”. This date is contrary to other, contemporary, sources and we should assume that the correct date for the visit to New Lanark was 27th December. [iv]


[i]     A Quest for Harmony: The Role of Music in Robert Owen’s New Lanark Community. Lorna Davidson. Utopian Studies, Volume 21, Number 2, (Penn State University Press 2010)

[ii]    Robert Owen: Social Idealist. Rowland Hill Harvey. (University of California, 1949)

[iii]   The life of Robert Owen, philanthropist and social reformer, an appreciation. R. E. Davies (Robert Sutton, Southwark, 1907)

[iv]   Robert Owen: a Biography. Frank Podmore (Appleton, New York, 1907)


Coincidentally, 1816 is also the 200th birthday or Bicentenary of New Lanark’s Institute for the Formation of Character. To celebrate we are hosting a range of Bicentenary themed activities throughout the year. Visit our website to find out more!

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