David Dale

Born the son of a grocer in Stewarton, Ayrshire, in 1739, David Dale was to go on to become a renowned philanthropist and to revolutionise industrial practice throughout Great Britain and the world. After an initial apprenticeship as a weaver in the town of Paisley, Dale started a business importing and selling homespun linen from the continent which prospered, and before long the fortune he made allowed him to marry into an influential family and buy a large house in Charlotte Square in Edinburgh which had been designed by Robert Adam. He was also appointed as the very first agent in Glasgow for the Royal Bank of Scotland (his wife being the bank Director's daughter). His interest in the textile trade remained, however, and he set up a factory manufacturing Turkey-red dye and several cotton mills in New Lanark, on the banks of the Clyde.

The first of four mills was built in 1785 and was to become something of a social engineering experiment. Much of his workforce made up of children and with workers becoming scarce to find due to all the other mills in the area, Dale turned to local orphanages in Edinburgh and Glasgow for a supply of labour. Dale was both a religious man and a philanthropist, and so these children were treated very well for the time, being housed beside the mills, looked after and well fed and even given two hours schooling (no other factory offered this) every night after their shift (which lasted from 6 o'clock in the morning to seven at night). Rather than split families up, children who were too young to work were also recruited; these children were schooled through the day until old enough to join their brothers and sisters on the factory floor. Dale also needed adult workers however and for this he turned to the Highlanders who had recently been 'cleared' from their ancestral homes in the North of the country and were flooding south towards Glasgow in the hope of finding a new life for themselves. Most of these workers did not speak English (only Gaelic) and so otherwise found recruitment difficult. Again Dale housed and educated these families, who proved one of the best workforces in the country. By the mid-1790's over 2000 people lived and worked in the community of New Lanark. 

Tapping into the skills of these highlanders, Dale soon established other mills in Oban, Sutherland and Perthshire, allowing them to remain in the highlands and to retain their pride and dignity. Dale's practices were viewed with interest by other mill owners across the whole of Europe, Russia and even America. 

David Dale died in 1806 at his estate of Rosebank near Cambuslang but his work was already being carried on by his son-in-law Robert Owen, who seeing the benefits of a happy and enlightened workforce spread Dale's working ethics overseas and expanded the business, establishing New Harmony in Indiana in the United States on the New Lanark pattern. Dale had proved that the blossoming factories of the industrial revolution did not need to be an inhumane environment for employees.

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