Surfing the Yesterday channel a few days ago, I was surprised and delighted to spot a familiar figure on the Antiques Roadshow! The roadshow was taking place at New Lanark in 2017, and John Crawford, member of our Advisory Board, and Chair of Leadhills Heritage Trust, had taken in a banner from Leadhills Miners’ Library.
The banner had just been restored and remounted with a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. The experts dated it to around 1820, and valued it at around £6000-£8000. Good news, as John observed, for the Leadhills Trustees!
We are delighted that the Leadhills Heritage Trust is one of our partners in the Books and Borrowing project. Although Leadhills Miners’ Library’s borrowers’ registers are no longer extant, their other archival materials, including the catalogue and library rules, are of great use and interest to us. Leadhills, like Westerkirk was founded by the miners themselves, and may indeed have been the inspiration for the institution of Westerkirk’s Reading Society. Leadhills was founded in 1741, while neighbouring Wanlockhead and Westerkirk began their own libraries in 1756 and 1793 respectively. Westerkirk’s borrowers’ registers do still exist, and we are thus able to include them in our project. Material from Leadhills helps us to supplement our understanding of these registers, and the context in which miners’ libraries, more broadly, came into being and operated.
We are looking forward to conducting further research into miners’ libraries, as well as to comparing their holdings and borrowings with those of other subscription and institutional libraries. Books and Borrowing Postdoctoral Fellow Alex Deans is already hard at work transcribing the Westerkirk Borrowers’ Registers and entering the data into our Content Management System, and we will report on research findings in due course. In the meantime, for those interested in knowing more, I can recommend Margaret J. Joachim’s recent ‘Reading in God’s Treasure-House: The Societies for Purchasing Books in Leadhills and Wanlockhead, 1741-1820’, recently published in The Edinburgh History of Reading: Common Readers, edited by Jonathan Rose (Edinburgh University Press, 2020), as well as John Crawford’s own work, in particular ‘Leadhills Library and a Wider World’, Library Review, 46:8 (1997). John also provides a brief video introduction to Leadhills here: https://vimeo.com/269341302. Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (Yale University Press, 2001) is also of interest to anyone interested in social history, and the chapter on the Welsh Miners Libraries in that work is of substantial comparative interest.
Miners’ libraries, like Leadhills, Wanlockhead and Westerkirk, are of particular value to us not just because of their intrinsic interest, but also because they allow us to consider the borrowings of members of the labouring classes, who are so often written out of history. Alongside the borrowing records from our other libraries, such as Innerpeffray, which was a free lending library and thus attracted those who could not afford a subscription, however low, we will analyse the borrowing habits of the miners in this tiny corner of the South West of Scotland, hoping in some small way to add to our knowledge of the ‘intellectual life’ of these readers.