C.A. Hope has done two of my favourite things – written an historical novel based on true facts and set in a real place. And she has written a book that really places you at the heart of the people who lived and worked in New Lanark, and at the heart of their everyday lives.
The New Lanark cotton mills – now a UNESCO world heritage site is a place of discovery and hidden history. There is plenty to see on a visit there such as inside the homes and shops of the workers, but it is with the book ‘New Larnark- Spinning new lives’ that the voices from history whisper from the stone buildings and the surrounding forest.
David Dale was a wealthy Glasgow business man who had plans for a new cotton mill. He found the perfect site at the Falls of Clyde, with its close proximity to the town of Lanark in 1784. He went on to build a mill village at the foot of the Falls and so New Lanark was born.
Dale was ahead of his time as he believed that workers’ conditions should be fair and honest. He was responsible for showing that business could be done right yet still be profitable.
The book also narrates the story of the Scott family who worked at the mill and delves in to how the reality of working in a mill at that time was harsh and unrelenting. Their experience of the New Lanark dream was somewhat different to that of the Mr Dale and his family.
I visited New Larnark for the first time since reading this novel and I felt I had already been guided round by the book. I had a strong sense of deja vu at many times during the day whilst reading and listening to the museum exhibits.
There is the Annie McLeod experience which sees you getting into a time travel car as Annie guides you through what it was like working and living in New Lanark in 1820. But to get a real insight and to feel the raw emotions of those in the book and even those who aren’t.
The literary trail of New Lanark – Spinning New Lives
Nature in the book:
The author obviously has a genuine love and interest in nature, wildlife and the Falls of Clyde in particular and these are also characters in the book as important and as much a part of the story as the human characters.
She writes of Dundaff waterfall – one of the four making up the Falls of Clyde –
Dundaff was the smallest waterfall in the valley but ..[…] . Yet, being visible from the village,it held its own beauty splashing down over rocky shelvesjust before the mills…” The kingfishers, sticklebacks and array of wildlife she mentions could also be seen as I stood and took a picture of the falls:
The people of New Lanark:
Fiona McDonald one of the poor is brought to see Mr Dale about working in the mill: she sets foot inside his house and notices the opulence – quite a stark reminder of the contrast of her own situation:
She had stepped into another world – page 14
A typical workers cottage would have looked like this: ( I was still intrigued to see the line of books beside the radio – no home is complete without them! )
Another character, Joe is desperate to save his widowed mother and siblings from ruin:
The family lived in the end part of a row of miners’ houses strung along the roadside. Houses were too grand a description for the shabby collection of stone walls and ragged thatched roofs. – page 20
For me, what I found particularly interesting and fascinating in equal measure was the author’s use of regional Scottish dialect. It never gets in the way of understanding though and even non native readers will see how it enhances the voice of the people.
The passion and raw emotion comes from Fiona the orphan as she prepares to marry Joe Scott: page 161
Joe says: ‘Ye’ve had a’ this learnin’ an’ readin’. Ah have nae, mibbe ye’ll come tae think o’ me as a sumf…’
Fiona replies: ‘Any hoo, mibbee ye will bore me, an’ who’s tae say ye will nae tire o’ me? But if Ah’m gaun tae be bored wi’ any man, Ah wid wish it tae be ye, Joe Scott!’
Spinning New Lives is about the language, people and backdrop of a part of Scottish history and I completely fell in love with the place, the book and the ghosts of those who lived and worked there. There was also a literary heritage I discovered – in the library of Robert Owen:
In my opinion – Literature can teach, educate, entertain and comfort. Every home should have a bookcase of these literary wonders. Robert Owen recognised this and it is still true today. The book New Lanark- Spinning New Lives is one such example of the power and importance of the written word.
There is a sequel planned and I for one can’t wait. I feel part of the story myself now and will be sure to go back to New Lanark and sit beside the Falls of Clyde to read how everything turned out. Beautifully written and excitedly read.