Museum of Lead Mining

Industrial, Museums & Exhibitions
Learn about the social and industrial history of the lead mining industry. Tours of the cottages, Miners' Library and Lochnell Mine plus a Tearoom and shop.

About Museum of Lead Mining

The Museum of Lead Mining represents the social and industrial history of this once important lead mining area. Lead has been found in this area since Roman times. The industry was at its most active between the 1700's and the 1950's. At first the miners spent the summer working the mines and lived in tents by the burn. Later, the land owner gave the miners plots of land for them to build their own homes. This meant they could work all year round. Wanlockhead is the highest village in Scotland, competing with Leadhills for this title. The isolated community developed strong support mechanisms with an early welfare state and education underpinning the families development. Women were employed with the Ayrshire lace making industry, known locally as 'floo'erin', reflecting the delicate lace flowers that were embroidered by candle light before being sent to merchants in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The lead was smelted locally. This caused significant health problems. The lead bars, or ingots, were transported to the port of Leith, outside Edinburgh. from there, the ingots were taken by sea to the Nederland's.

The Visitor Centre has a self guided museum walking through the local geology, minerals found as well as the mining and processing of ore. The role of engineers is described as the industrial revolution had its impact on the mining community.

A tour of Straitsteps Cottages allow you to walk through the living conditions of the miners families in the 1750's, 1850's and 1910. The cottages were small and the conditions simple. Mains water did not reach the village until the 1950's.

Outside the cottages is the Beam Engine. This is one of the only remaining waterbucket pumps in the UK. It was used to pump water from the depths of the mine. Waterbucket pumping engines had their origin in an attempt to create a 'perpetual motion' machine and their simple nodding action earned them the name of ' bobbin' johns' in Scotland. The power to work the engine was provided by filling the wooden bucket with water from the local burn, which then pulled the beam down bringing up water from the mine. The bucket was then drained, allowing the beam to return to the top of it’s stroke where the bucket was refilled and so it went. This Beam Engine allowed miners to continue working in the Straitsteps mine which otherwise would have flooded.

Lochnell Mine was worked between 1710 and 1860. It is one of the few mines open to the public. You can walk into the narrow level and see how the miners worked and followed the veins of lead.

The Miners' Library was formed in 1756. From the mid eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth, community or subscription libraries flourished all over Scotland. A community library was simply a club which members joined upon payment of an entry fee and subscription. Most of the money raised in this way was spent on books and a permanent library was gradually accumulated. When the library was founded books were an expensive and relatively scarce commodity being printed mainly in London. The books covered many subjects including religion, overseas travel, politics, mineralogy and of course mining.

The tearoom and the gift shop support local suppliers and producers wherever it is possible.

Gold is found in the local streams. It can be collected by gold panning. The museum has some gold panning tanks where you can try out your luck! Gold panning licenses are available as well as courses. The licenses are provided by the Buccleuch Estates, but can be purchased through the shop. Local gold was used in the crowns for both King James Vth and Mary, Queen of Scots. More recently gold, panned from streams in the Wanlockhead area, was given by the British Gold Panning Association for incorporation in the mace of the Scottish Parliament. The mace was presented to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 by HM Queen Elizabeth 11. The gold was formed into a wedding band that represented 'the marriage of Parliament, the land and the people'.

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