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Lanark’s History

Lanark’s History

The Parish of Lanark covers more than ten thousand acres, much of it rich farmland. It includes both the ancient town of Lanark, one of the oldest royal burghs in Scotland, and the village of New Lanark. Lanark, a market town and the county town of Lanarkshire, is situated on high land overlooking the River Clyde. From the time of William the Lion, kings of Scotland came to hunt in the area. The royal castle where they lived stood on the mound at the foot of the Castlegate where there is now a bowling green.

During the reign of David 1(1124-53) the monks of Dryburgh Abbey were given the old church of St. Kentigern around which the pre-Norman settlement is thought to have developed. Thereafter the Norman town grew up between the castle and the chapel of St. Nicholas, receiving its royal charter as a burgh in the same century. The ruins of St. Kentigerns are of considerable interest as they belong to this period.

The end of the 13th century brought troubled times as many Scots took up arms against Edward I of England to maintain their independence. The noted Scottish patriot William Wallace gathered a body of supporters and slew the English sheriff in charge of Lanark Castle. This encouraged Wallace to fight on for the cause of Scotland. Although Wallace was later captured and executed, independence was achieved not long after by Robert the Bruce in 1314. Owing to the fact that several important burghs fell into English hands, Lanark was given the responsibility in 1369 of looking after the stone weights of Scotland. This reflected Lanark’s importance as a market town.

In both medieval and early modern times the Church in Lanark, as elsewhere in Scotland, dominated the life of the people. Although there seems to have been little unrest in the town at the time of the Reformation,
Lanark was closely involved in the bitter struggle of the Covenanters. Following the Restoration in 1660, king Charles II sought by the introduction of Episcopacy to put an end to the Presbyterian form of church government. This heralded almost 30 years of repression, much of it brutal, causing the more extreme Covenanters to rise up in periodic rebellion against the forces of the government. The townspeople of Lanark were, rightly or wrongly, accused of encouraging the ‘rebels’ and were fined. Many people in the parish, such as William Hervey, who joined the Covenanting movement were executed and had their goods and property seized while others were imprisoned. Today, in their memory, there can be seen in St. Kentigerns churchyard an obelisk known as ‘the Martyrs’ Monument’.

The Parish Church of St. Nicholas, originally a medieval chapel, became in 1688 the main church for the parish when the old St. Kentigerns fell into disrepair. The present rather plain building at the Cross was erected in 1774.
Splits in the Church of Scotland culminating in ‘the Disruption’ in 1843 led ultimately to the erection in Lanark of some beautiful church buildings, several of which survive and are supported by loyal congregations. To cater for the growing number of Roman Catholics in the parish, St. Mary’s Church, occupying a fine position at the top of the town, was opened in 1859 and subsequently rebuilt after a fire in 1907. It was renovated and that was finished in 2011. Its church hall was set on fire on 21/09/11. It is now demolished.

In view of its importance, many of the nobility built dwellings in Lanark such as Hyndford House which dates back to the early 17th century. Later, in the 19th century, the establishment of rail links with both Glasgow and Edinburgh helped to give the town a new lease of life both as a commuter area and as a livestock market. As Lanark expanded, new streets were constructed and many graceful but substantial dwellings were erected within the burgh.

Mainly due to the lack of economic minerals in the parish, Lanark escaped the worst ravages of the Industrial Revolution. As well as farming, which still thrives, craft trades such as boot and shoe making and handloom weaving continued well into the 19th century providing work for a large section of the population of the parish.
Lanark is a town steeped in tradition. This is typified by the ‘Lanimers’ -a week long festival held early in June, which incorporates an inspection of the burgh boundaries as well as a beautiful pageant culminating in the crowning of the Lanimer Queen. The tradition of the pageant is first recorded in 1488 and the inspection of the ‘marches’ or burgh boundaries in 1570. Also, still marked every year on 1st March is the old custom of ‘Whuppity Scoorie’ when, at 6pm, as the parish church bell tolls, children race for a prize of money three times round the parish church swinging above their heads balls of tightly wrapped paper tied to the end of string. For nearly 400 years horses were raced at Lanark for one of the oldest and most coveted of racing trophies – the Lanark Silver Bell, sadly this is discontinued at the present.

Set in a deep gorge by the River Clyde about a mile to the south of the town lies the village of New Lanark. It dates from 1785 when the first cotton mill was erected there by the merchant and philanthropist, David Dale. However, New Lanark is best known for the social experiment in communal living and working carried out in the early 19th century by Dale’s son-in-law, Robert Owen, who acquired control over the village complex in 1800. His fame was such that the community drew to it visitors from all over Europe. As the years passed and as ownership of the village changed, work in the mills was diversified, until in 1968, it could no longer continue. To try to save the village, a conservation trust was formed and small businesses were set up. Today, now painstakingly and extensively restored, New Lanark attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.

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