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Pathfinder Pack on Lead Mining in the 19th Century



Lead mining was concentrated in the area of Leadhills and Wanlockhead. Wanlockhead has the distinction of being the highest village in Scotland, and in the Nineteenth century, was fairly remote and inaccessible. The first record of mining in the district is that of a lead mine being worked by the Monks of Newbattle in 1239, but it is accepted that lead mining was carried on long before that time. In 1832, the Government adapted a 'free trade' policy which caused widespread depression in the British lead industry as cheap foreign imports pushed the price of lead down from £35 to £11.50 per ton. The Wanlockhead mines contracted sharply in the late 1830s and over two hundred miners and their families left the village. When the mining lease expired in 1842 the Duke of Buccleuch took over the mining operations to maintain employment in the community. Only resourceful management and sound engineering ensured the economic working of the mines through the rest of the Nineteenth century. The School was built by the Duke of Buccleuch, and was open from 10a.m. to 4p.m. The children were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, book- keeping, mensuration, Latin, Greek and French. The children were generally taken away from school when they were twelve years old. From the age of eight, most boys were employed by the lead mining company. Their work was in the washing and "dressing" or breaking of the ore, all in the open air. As they were unable to work in frosty weather, they attended school during the winter months. From 8 years upwards, the girls were mainly occupied in the home. In the 1840s, the miners had one day's holiday at each of the two Sacrament days in the year along with one feast day, all of which were regularly observed. They also had New Year's Day and two fair days off but normally, with these exceptions, worked six days a week. The work was taken either, in a year's bargain or in a three month bargain, working at a particular part of the mine and receiving so much per ton for the smelted metal produced from the ore which they extracted. The price varied with the difficulty of working the ore. A group of workers, known as a partnership and led by a "taker", would make a contract, 'a bargain' with the mining company to carry out a particular task for an agreed rate of payment. The men were given a free hand as to how they set about the work and were expected to provide their own tools. If the' bargain' was not achieved, the men were not paid. There are a number of powder houses scattered around the hillsides at Wanlockhead. They were built well away from the village for safety reasons. Their sides were built with reinforced concrete, the roofs were made of a breezeblock type of bricks, built in such a manner that if the powder houses did explode, the blast would go upwards taking the roof with it and it was expected that very little injury would be sustained to the workman. The lead miners were generally steady and thoughtful, and accidents involving explosives was a rare occurrence. Lead miners suffered from ill heath. The smelters, in particular, suffered with "lead distemper" and died "madmen or idiots". By the early Nineteenth century, the Duke of Buccleuch had employed an ex-naval surgeon to tend to the physical needs of the workers. The lead mines may have had a worse health record than coal pits, but lead mining did not suffer from the same amount of accidents. In March 1829, a fire in the shaft above a steam engine threatened a serious accident. Forty men were fighting the flames when they were overcome with "choke damp". Fortunately all were rescued and no lives were lost. In 1876, a total of 274 people were employed in the lead mines.112 of these were miners, 36 labourers, 36 boys, and various other trades and jobs necessary for the operation of a lead mine. In addition to their employment as miners, several had shops and were butchers, tailors and cloggers. The miners had the right to pasture cows on about 500 acres of heather and coarse grazing land, around the village at the nominal rent of £25.The miners also reclaimed a large amount of hill-land to yield hay for their cows. The women of the village earned money by embroidering muslin -"Floorin" (flowering, as it was called). The villagers were closely related by birth and marriage, and kinship was the basis of organisation of social life. The Beam Engine at Wanlockhead is the only complete pump of its kind left in Britain today. Water bucket engines were, in their day, simple and ingenious machines suited to using the moorland streams as a source of power for continuous mine pumping. The Beam Engine on show at the Museum of Lead Mining at Wanlockhead could pump 15.2 gallons of water per minute from a depth about 150 ft operating on a cycle of four times per minute. These machines were widely used in Scotland in the early Nineteenth century and were called "bobbing johns" by the miners.The first period of steam pumping at Wanlockhead lasted until 1831. It ended when the 2nd Marquis of Bute sold off the steam engines and introduced hydraulic ones. His decision was a financial one. At the time the shareholders were divided over a proposal to close the mines and abandon the lease. Both the mines and the village were only saved when the landowner agreed in 1823 to accept a much reduced rent in return for the company's undertaking new trials. The trials were to begin immediately, but were not promising and the company appears to have pursued them faint-heartedly. Under the new agreement between the company and the landowner a larger engine was erected and the workings deepened eventually to 40 metres. In 1826, the landowner's law agent commissioned a mining engineer to investigate progress under the agreement, and it was found that the company, while paying the lower rental, had deliberately delayed investment in the development work.

Lead Mining in the 19th Century

Industrial crisis Children at the Duke of Buccleuch School Working conditions
Powder Houses Health of the Leadminers A mining community
Wanlockhead Beam Engine Hydraulic Pumping Engines
Scran ID: 000-000-001-421-L
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