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Wanlockhead Beam Engine

An early 19th-century wooden water-balance pump for draining a lead mine

Wanlockhead Beam Engine

A unique survival

This is the only water-powered beam pumping engine in a reasonably complete condition remaining in Britain. It was built around 1870 to help pump water from the Straitsteps lead mine that ran deep underneath it. The beam engine ceased functioning when commercial lead-mining at Wanlockhead ended in the 1930s.

When the site was excavated in 1972, the foundations of a horse gin were found close beside it. The horse walked round a wooden drum on a vertical shaft, which was used to raise and lower machine parts during essential maintenance.


Simple but effective

The beam engine was a simple but effective machine – and much less costly to run than the steam engines that preceded it. Water to power the engine was collected in a tank (the only piece of apparatus no longer in existence) on the hillside above, and piped to the right-hand side of the engine. There it ran into a wooden bucket attached to the great timber beam by an iron rod.

The weight of the full bucket took it downwards, thereby pulling the pump rod in the adjacent shaft upwards. As the bucket reached the bottom of the pit it triggered a valve that emptied the bucket. The rising empty bucket pushed the pump rod back down again. As soon as the bucket reached the top, it filled again – so repeating the procedure.


God’s treasure house in Scotland

The villages of Wanlockhead and Leadhills are known as ‘God’s Treasure House in Scotland’ because of the extraordinary rich and diverse mineral ores beneath them, principally gold and lead. The Crown of Scotland, on display in Edinburgh Castle, was made in 1540 from Leadhills gold.

Wanlockhead, incidentally the highest village in Scotland (467m), was created in the 1680s, and the Straitsteps mine opened in 1710. It was worked commercially from 1793 until the 1920s. Wanlockhead now houses the fascinating Museum of Lead Mining, where the beam engine is a focal point.


Highlights

  • The location – so remote you wouldn’t know you were just 40 miles (64km) from the centre of Glasgow.
  • The landscape – full of industrial relics.



Location

Region – Dumfries and Galloway

In Wanlockhead village off the A76.