Leadhills has oldest library

Last week I mentioned the Carnegie Library and how much the people of Ayrshire benefited from the generosity of Andrew Carnegie.

Libraries provide the populace with free access to books which encourage a lively imagination.

Non-fiction books provide information on a variety of subjects whilst fiction books give an imaginative mind something to dwell on. Books were the main form of interest for many, and was a boon to countless people particularly those living in remote parts of the country. But to understand how much libraries were in demand we find that that in the village of Leadhills in Lanarkshire, which is not only the second highest village in Scotland being some 1295 feet above sea level, but has the oldest subscription library in Britain. But to stop for a moment, just to satisfy the inquisitive, Wanlockhead in Dumfriesshire at 1531 feet above sea level is the highest village.

But to return to our tale the Leadhills library was opened by 23 lead miners who 1741 set up the Leadhills Reading Society. These lead miners had a very singular life style as they had a very unhealthy job and were paid in company tokens which could only be exchanged in the company shop, so this was a tremendous achievement for them to contemplate. They named the library the Allan Ramsay Library after the poet and bookseller who was born in the village in 1686 and went on to set up Scotland’s first circulating library.

Mind you having said that lead mining was a very unhealthy occupation I notice that in the Leadhills cemetery is the grave of one lead miner who died in 1770 at the ripe old age of 137. He must have thrived on the atmosphere in a village so high up in the Lowther Hills notwithstanding the influence of mining lead and all that entailed. So even though this remote village high up in the Hills with a very inbred society and land unfit for farming, may be a long way from the centre of bustling Scotland it was not without its own civilisation and culture. This form of payment of wages in tokens which could only be exchanged in the company shops kept the work force focused on their job, but at least the goods they purchased in these shops were cheaper than in the more affluent stores elsewhere. Wanlockhead and the Leadhills are well worth a visit if only to see the mine museum and ride on highest adhesion railway in Britain. Built to service the mines this two foot narrow gauge railway operated from 1901 to 1939 and was re-opened by enthusiasts in 1996.

See you next week.