There are numerous keys in our collection that were found during the restoration of New Lanark that began in the late 1970s. The photo above depicts a selection of keys that originally belonged to former residents of the village.
At its peak in 1818, there were 2,500 employees at New Lanark. The majority of people who worked in the Mills, lived in the early tenement blocks built by New Lanark’s founder, David Dale, to accommodate his workers. These buildings, including Braxfield Row, Long Row, Double Row, Wee Row, Nursery Row, Caithness Row, Mantila Row & New Buildings provided housing for around 200 families. Each family had one room with a window – excellent conditions for the period!. A typical tenement room had two “set in” beds on the wall opposite the fireplace. These consisted of a sturdy wooden framework built into the wall and a mattress which was a bag made of ticking and stuffed with chaff or straw. To accommodate larger families, a “hurlie bed” was used which was a simple cot-like bed on wheels that was stored under the “set in” bed. Each of the beds were shared by three or more family members as most tenements housed entire families that ranged from 8 to 10 members.
As the population of New Lanark declined over time, so the layout of the houses changed. Families would take over two rooms, sometimes even three, doors would be blocked up, new ones opened and most importantly, the house numbers would change with these alterations. Hence trying to match a key to a house is not as easy a task as it may seem!
Following a 40+ year restoration programme, all but one of the tenement blocks have now been restored (an the restoration of the last is underway).Today, there are 45 tenancies and 20 owner-occupied houses at New Lanark with a population of roughly 150-200 people who live here permanently. Mantila Row was unfortunately demolished during the restoration period as the building was unsafe but the exteriors of the other buildings remain pretty much unchanged. The keys however have got much smaller!
The Story of New Lanark, World Heritage Site
Living in New Lanark, New Lanark Conversation Trust
Historic New Lanark, Ian Donnachie & George Hewitt
Holly – New Lanark Archive Intern