Scotlands History

Lead mining and Wanlockhead

Lead was mined from the Lowther Hills in Roman times. One early use of the mineral was as a food preservative! Scottish kings called this area of the Southern Uplands ‘God’s Treasure House’, because of all the precious metals to be found there alongside the lead: most notably, high-quality silver and gold.

The village of Leadhills, in South Lanarkshire, stands at 395m above sea level. It had lead mines which, at their peak output around 1810, produced 1400 tons annually. Miners clubbed together here in 1741 to form the first subscription library in Scotland. The mining ceased here in 1928.

Just up the road (and over the Clyde-Nith watershed) is Wanlockhead, in Dumfries and Galloway. This is the highest village in Scotland, standing at 467m, and it too had lead mines. A water-powered steam engine was used at Wanlockhead to pump out the mines. There was a miners’ library here, as at Leadhills, and a church, curling club, drama group and silver band.

The story of lead mining in Scotland is told at the Wanlockhead Lead Mining Museum. Visitors can even go underground into one of the lead mines.

  • A photograph of an old miner's lamp.
  • A photograph of Wanlockhead.

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