Visit to the Lead Mining Museum, Wanlockhead, Lanarkshire

Almost midway between Glasgow and Carlisle, there are signs directed to a lead mining museum. We eventually decided to go and were not disappointed. We highly recommended a visit here. Wanlockhead has a great atmosphere and feels very remote, yet is only a few miles from the motorway.

Our interest in lead and how it is mined is because country potters used raw lead as the prime constituent of their glazes. When mixed with clay into a cream-like consistency, pots are dipped into it and then fired. The lead provides the necessary glass making qualities to make a glaze.

The M74 passes through moorland

Just off the M74, the moorland rolls around in lush greens

As you approach Lead Hills (village) and Wanlockhead, evidence of mining activity can be seen

Houses were built in amongst the moors 

The Mining Museum Vistor Centre
The visitor centre
One of the great things about the Lead Mining Museum is that it is spread throughout the village at five different sites. The visitor centre, the mine, the miners cottages, the miners library and a place where you can prospect for gold.

The visitor centre is in a building that had been used as a smelter and as a blacksmiths. Robert Burns, as the visiting excise man, had his horse shod here, and paid for it with a poem.

Inside this part of the museum mannequins are used to describe aspects of mining life.

This scene shows lead ore being melted to extract the lead. The process causes poisonous fumes and was the cause of much illness and early deaths.

Smelting the ore

Miners were only paid once a year, based on how much lead they mined. This meant they and their families had to live on credit from the company stores, who had a monopoly - and used it.

The head miner negotiates a price for his lead   
This water pump was human operated. It sacks on the chain are drawn up through a wooden pipe, creating a vacuum and sucking the air up.
Water pump
The bottom of the pipe
The geology of the area is well described.

And there are nice examples of what lead ore actually looks like.

Galena (lead ore)
There are frequent guided tours down the mine. It is a short walk form the visitor centre to all the sites and  is extremely picturesque.

This mine was worked for 150 years
Our guide
Miners apparently always kept the first bit of lead they found in a new mine in situ, giving it a rub as they entered the mine each day, for luck.
Lead ore
This wooden wagon full of lead ore has no wheels and was pulled by a child.
Wooden wagon

Pick-axe marks
The access to this mine is restricted - but it goes on for some distance, on the same seam and also below, along another seam. This fellow spent his day winching miners and lead ore up and down the shaft from the seam below.
Winch operator

Further along the village is a miners cottage, recreated inside to show different periods of life in Wanlockhead.

Part of the walk to the miners cottage
Miners cottage
When mining first started in this area, the accommodation was basic, no windows, soil floor, heather mattress and fire in the middle of the room.

Interior recreation of the 17th Century
Early plate

Interior recreation of the 18th century

Country pottery serving dish with spurtle (for stirring porridge)

Country pottery pancheon

A box bed

A cooking range

Interior recreation of the late 18th century

Just outside the miners cottage is the Wanlockhead Beam Engine, which is a pump powered by water from  the hill above.

View down the valley from the beam engine and miners cottage
The next place to visit is the Miner's library. The second oldest subscription library in the world. The first is just a few miles down the road at Lead Hills village.
Walk to the Library
The guide at the Miner's Library described the hardship of the miners. Illness was common in children and adults alike. Caused by lead poisoning, exposure to cold with children washing the ore in the freezing river, poor diet and long and hard working conditions. A forty year old was considered old.

The Miner's Library
Wanlockhead is the highest village in Scotland and is on the route of the Southern Upland Way.