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The Miners’ Library

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Wanlockhead Miners’ Library is one of the oldest subscription libraries in Scotland and indeed Europe.

It was established ‘….for our mutual improvement’,  on the 1st November, 1756 by 32 men. The first woman was admitted in 1784. The Library was funded by subscriptions from the miners, but a contribution was also made by mining companies. The library aimed 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 a major patron of the Library.

The privilege of Membership

The atmosphere in the Miners’ Library has to be experienced to fully understand the influence that the books had on the lives of the miners and their families. Due to the Miners’ Library and high levels of education, few people left the area.’ Dorothy Wordsworth in her ‘Tour Made In Scotland’ in 1803 tells how, when travelling with her brother William, and the poet Coleridge through the Mennock Pass on their way to the village, she met a group of boys ‘..all without shoes and stockings. They told us that they lived in Wanlockhead, went to school, and learned Latin (Virgil) and Greek (Homer). 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. This membership certificate was issued to William Meikle on joining the Library on the 7th January 1829.s. 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. Leadhills Miners’ library did not admit women members until 1881, over 100 years later!

The Library Today

The library originally started in the old school house, but as the subscription members increased and the number of books in stock increased, it was necessary to move the library to a new home. A cottage was given to the members by the mine overseers in 1787.  However, the cottage was too small and it became necessary to build a larger building, which came into use in July 1788.  The stock of books rose to over 2,000 and again having enough space became problematic. A new library was built with money raised through voluntary subscription.  The new library was opened in January, 1851, and this is the library you can see today.

The library was neglected after the mid-1950s. Renovation of the building and care of the library collection has been the responsibility of Wanlockhead Museum Trust since 1974. The collection is recognised to be of national importance and remains as a symbol of the lead miners’ culture and education.

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