Lead mining was never a major Scottish industry. It was, however, the first industry to grow from large-scale English investment in Scotland.
During the 15th century, galena ore was mined more than lead, primarily for its silver content. This was the case at Tyndrum mines.
Lead mining in Scotland
From 1550, lead became more valued as a metal in its own right. Many established English mining companies began to set up in Scotland, alongside both Scottish and English businessmen looking for new opportunities.
In the 18th century, the industry struggled to find skilled miners. Traditionally, the coal industry forced the poor and criminals to work in mines to make up required numbers. The lead industry, however, hired English miners, who moved up and trained willing locals.
Usually Scottish miners received a day wage. English miners, however, brought a new system called the bargain system. Miners formed partnerships and made a contract with their employer on how much galena ore they needed to mine for a certain price.
It was a dangerous job. The only way to reach the ore, through hard rock, was to blast through it using gunpowder. Breathing in poisonous lead powder all day meant that miners had a short life span.
Future of lead mining
The industry reached a peak in the early 19th century, when there were lead mines in every Scottish county, but only six significant mines. These were Leadhills, Wanlockhead, Alva, Strontian, Tyndrum and Minnigaff. However, even then Scotland produced only 5% of the total British output of lead.
After 1820, the availability of cheap lead from Spain pushed the industry in Scotland into decline.