Leadhills Miner's Library is the oldest subscription library in the British Isles. The Liverpool Subscription Library, the first in England was not founded until 1758. The second oldest library being in Wanlockhead our neighboring village.
Of the 23 founder members at Leadhills all were miners except for the minister and the schoolmaster.
The early books were mainly religious in character and included;
Scougal...'Life of God in the Soul of Man'
Grotius...'Truth of the Christian Religion'
Du Pin's...'History of the Church'
Matthew Hendry's...Communicant's Companion'
and many volumes of sermons.
Many of the volumes acquired in the first century of the library's life are still extant, and the miners deserve credit for tackling such reading after a hard shift underground or at the smelting mills. The considerable sums, noted in the Minute Books, spent on repairs and rebinding show that the books really were read, and were not merely status symbols.
Members included a number of celebrated men. William Symington, mining engineer of Leadhills and inventor of the paddle steamer and steam pumping engines. Dr. John Brown, the Edinburgh author of 'Rab and his Friends' both belonged to the library.
The Library used to be named after Allan Ramsay. This refers to Allan Ramsay the elder, poet and auther of 'The Gentle Shepherd'. He was born in Leadhills in 1686, the son of Robert Ramsay, the mine manager. While there is nothing to link him to the library other than he was an author and poet, there may be a connection, but, having not found one we decided to revert back to the original name of 'The Leadhills Reading Society'.
Allan Ramsay had already, in 1725, established a circulating library in the Luckenbooths area of Edinburgh, and no doubt this idea was heard of in his native village. Allan Ramsay was the son of Robert Ramsay and Alice Bowes. Robert was the son of another Robert Ramsay, also a mine manager at Leadhills, and Alice Bowes was the daughter of a Derbyshire man who had been brought to Leadhills to teach the miners there, Allans father was cut off at 25 leaving no provision for his family. Allan was apprenticed to a wigmaker in Edinburgh, and lived there the rest of his life. He never forgot Leadhills and the influence of its moorland scenery is easy to trace in his poetry.
Today the library contains various relics of the past life in the village and the mines, as well as the book collection. A mineral collection is on display showing rare minerals unique to this area including one of 'Leadhillsite'
Leadhills Miner's Library encompasses three organisations; The Leadhills Heritage Trust, The Miner's Library Committee and The Leadhills Reading Society.
The Reading Society is the oldest of the three being essentially the same body that arose at the inception of the Library in 1741. It is the body of Library members.
The Miner's Library Committee is the body responsible for the day to day operation of the Library. The responsibilities of the committee include paying the bills, staffing the Library when open, organising events and exhibitions and generally taking care of the Library and its collections.
The Leadhills Heritage Trust is the effective owner of the Library and its contents, there to hold the Library for future generations.