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Straitsteps Cottage

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The village of Wanlockhead has existed for over three hundred years. 

The first miners came to pan for gold. The early lead miners lived in tents through the summer months. It was impossible to camp through the winter because of the severe weather conditions, and so the miners returned to lower lands.

Straitsteps Cottages were built in the 1860s. The museum depicts the domestic life of the miners during  1750, 1850 and 1920. The artefacts on show illustrate how the people of Wanlockhead lived, worked and played. The tour guide will explain how the miners’ families lived during these different times.

Wanlockhead is an isolated place and many generations of the same families have lived and worked here. The lead industry went through cycles of prosperity and recession. During times of recession many of the families left to start new lives in Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Living in the 1700s

The lead mining industry became established in the late 1600s. The mine owners realised that they could make the miners work throughout the year if they had better housing. The tents were replaced by small, stone buildings made from local stones with roofs that were either thatched with heather, or covered with sods of peat or turf.  These buildings mostly consisted of ‘but and ben’ cottages and consisted of one room with rushes on the floor.

The fireplace was a hearth on the floor. The room was ventilated by a hole in the roof which acted as a chimney. Local peat was used as fuel for the fire. The windows were open to the weather. Glass panes were very expensive. The elements were kept at bay by wooden shutters.

‘Night soil’ was collected in a bucket and later poured onto the allotments or into the burn. Drinking water was collected from the burn!

Living in the 1800s

As new mining families moved into the area, they were allocated land on which they could build their home. When the building was complete the family paid rent to the landowner. The Duke of Buccleuch took over the mining operations in 1842 and housing improved. The cottages now had two rooms and the roofs were covered with slate. The windows were glazed, but remained small to keep the heat in. Peat was used as fuel until coal became available in 1809. Coal was burned in the open fires and cooking ranges.

Drinking water was treated by filtering through reed beds. This reduced the incidence of cholera.

Living in the 1900s

The houses were better furnished. Wood flooring and sash windows were introduced. Many of the cottages had homemade rag-rugs on the floor, as can be seen in Straitsteps Cottages. Cooking continued on the coal fired ranges. Water was delivered from a local reservoir to a standpipe outside the cottages. The village was connected to mains electricity in 1951. A sewage treatment plant was built in 1985. There is no mains gas in the village.

Straitsteps Cottages Tours

You can book your guided tour online!

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