As owner of the New Lanark cotton-mills from 1800, Robert Owen carried out a social experiment designed to transform the lives of his community of millworkers, through improved living and working conditions, free medical care and education. He intended to demonstrate how his ideas, if universally adopted, could transform society in general.

Central to this experiment was his innovative and enlightened system of education in the Institute for the Formation of Character. This article looks in particular at the musical life of New Lanark and explores Owen’s belief in the power of music to bind together people from different backgrounds, and to assist in the creation of a harmonious community. Lavishly funded musical activities played a major part in the curriculum, and in the life of the community as a whole. All this is well documented and fascinating insights into the lives of the New Lanark people are included in the travel journals and letters, some previously unpublished, of the many visitors who came to see Owen’s model community.

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