The Wanlockhead Miner’s Library is the second oldest subscription Library in Scotland and indeed Europe and was established ….for our mutual improvement, on the 1st November 1756 with 32 men. The Library was funded by subscriptions from the Miners, but a contribution was also made by mining companies too in order to encourage self-improvement in the miners. There was a hidden agenda, as the mining companies believed that the Library would help to cut down on the unruly behaviour which existed at the time. The Duke of Buccleuch was another major patron of the Library.
High in the Lowther Hills to the west of the M74, Wanlockhead is Scotland’s highest village at 467m (1531 ft). It owes its existence to the lead, gold and other minerals found under the surrounding countryside.
Only 40 miners’ sons ‘escaped’ from the mines in the 40 years between 1835 and 1875 and this was due in great part to the Miners’ Library and the books it held. Wanlockhead has given the world many famous ‘sons’ and ’ daughters’, whose first taste of education, was with the books at Wanlockhead Miners’ Library.
Membership of the Library was a privilege and new members were subjected to a rigorous interrogation by the Librarian before being admitted to membership. Wanlockhead Miners’ Library was very progressive in that it allowed women to subscribe! In 1784 it is recorded that there were 32 male members and 1 female – Isabella Rutherford.
The library originally started in the school but as the subscription numbers increased and the number of books in stock increased, it was necessary to move the library to a cottage, which was given to them by the mine overseers in 1787. However the cottage was too small and it was found to be necessary to build a larger building, which came into use in July 1788. As the stock of books rose to over 2,000 again the problem of space forced them to build a new library from subscription money. This was opened in January 1851 and this is the library you can see today.
Today the library houses a collection of books which have been recognised to have Great National Importance and can be seen as a symbol of the lead miners’ culture and education.
It must be said, that in this time period, the realisation had dawned on employers in the new large industries, that if their employees were better treated, educated and happier with their lot then, they would work harder as a result. Robert Owen of New Lanark took a keen interest in discovering how the mining companies at Wanlockhead and Leadhills, looked after their miners and families and some of what he learned here, was applied to his mills in the Clyde Valley.
Information from Museum of Lead Mining website.
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