Lead ore occurs at a number of sites in the Southern Uplands and has been mined on a large scale at Wanlockhead in Nithsdale and near Carsphairn and Newton Stewart in Galloway. The mines at Wanlockhead and the neighbouring village of Leadhills in Lanarkshire were particularly rich and produced most of Scotland's lead.

Lead has been mined since prehistory but the main period of production was during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Most of the mines were leased by local landowners to mining companies with the money and technical knowledge to work them successfully. A fall in the world price of lead in the 1870s forced many local mines to close although mining continued at Wanlockhead well into the twentieth century. The Glencrieff Mine at Wanlockhead, which closed in 1958, was the last working lead mine in the country. 

Lead ore is found in vertical veins, often with other minerals like quartz. It was worked by digging shafts and levels - horizontal tunnels - onto the vein and extracting the lead in a series of chambers known as stopes. Water was a constant problem. Sometimes a mine could be drained by driving a tunnel or adit from a nearby valley. At other mines a pumping engine had to be installed and many of the local mines were able to use waterwheels and other types of water-powered engines to drain the workings. A unique example of a water-powered bucket pump can still be seen at Wanlockhead. 

Once the lead ore had been taken to the surface it was crushed and washed to separate the lead from the waste. It was then smelted into ingots or pigs of pure metallic lead. At Wanlockhead and Woodhead (Carsphairn) the lead was smelted on site. At the mines around Newton Stewart it was easier and cheaper to ship the ore to North Wales for smelting.

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