Guest blog by Ruth Beattie, Head Researcher and Learning Officer…
In November 2015 I began a research project linked to the Townscape Heritage Project for the restoration of Double Row; the last derelict tenement at New Lanark to be restored.
Research would focus on the social history of the tenement, the families and past residents who lived there and of the history of people in the village. We chose the time period from 1900 to the 1970s for three reasons: it was the most recent time period in the building’s history, many past residents with memories of relatives and living their themselves had been identified and it was a time of great change in Scotland in terms of the world wars, the decline of industry, the modernisation of housing and of people’s lifestyles.
When I began the project, I looked at the existing known New Lanark families living in Double Row from the early 1900s. Researching the village in the First World War had given me a good understanding of the family names, connections and their backgrounds. At this time in particular, many Irish weaving families had settled in New Lanark and were employed in the mills weaving nets and canvas for the Gourock Ropework Company.
Names such as Jess (of which there are around 5 separate families!), Harkness, Bones, Savage, Hawthorne, Leggatte, Lynas and Ashe among many others, came up time and again along with Scottish or long standing New Lanark names such as Mackin, MacPherson, Arnott, Kirkhope, Hay, Goddard, Dunlop, Romer, and Graham.
Then it was time to open the research to those people who had lived here, were born here, grew up here or simply remembered their relatives living here and held fond, happy memories of the village. The initial response was fantastic. We advertised in local Lanarkshire papers, on our website and social media and around our site. Many people got in touch with me from all over Britain and even as far as Canada! Through emails, phone calls and visits to our search-room we have pieced together the stories of the families recording memories and with documents and family photos. We now have 24 separate New Lanark family stories. Each family has a file containing a biography in progress, photos, documents and any interesting finds such as newspaper articles of the time or oral history interviews recorded in the 1980s.
One of the most interesting stories to come out of the research was of the lost letter to Double Row resident Mary Savage, written in 1916 by a friend in County Antrim, Ireland after the family had moved to New Lanark. You can read more about this story on our blog post from June 2016 by our marketing intern Ronan Moore.
I would like to thank all the families who have been in touch for their amazing contribution and the volunteers helping with the research. As we move into the second phase* of the research project, we really couldn’t be in a better position with a wealth of interesting stories to build upon.
New Lanark is a special place and it means so very much to people whose families lived and worked here in the time of the mills. This has been perhaps the most moving aspect of the research and it is truly rewarding to be able to bring those family stories together. I hope that we can produce a legacy from the project to last and that would not have been possible without people’s memories of a past life, their enthusiasm and their sense of pride at having a connection to this historic village.
*Information about phase two of the project coming in early 2017.
Ruth Beattie, Head Researcher and Learning Officer, New Lanark Trust.