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Islay, Mulreesh, Lead Mines

Engine House (Period Unassigned), Lead Mine(S) (Period Unassigned), Rig And Furrow (Medieval) - (Post Medieval)

Site Name Islay, Mulreesh, Lead Mines

Classification Engine House (Period Unassigned), Lead Mine(S) (Period Unassigned), Rig And Furrow (Medieval) - (Post Medieval)

Canmore ID 38126

Site Number NR46NW 7

NGR NR 4016 6875

NGR Description centred on engine house

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Killarow And Kilmeny
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NR46NW 7.00 4016 6875.

NR46NW 7.01 4014 6827 Islay, Mulreesh Reservoir

NR46NW 7.02 4019 6823 Islay, Mulreesh, Lead Mines, Office

For general account of lead mining on Islay (with mention of production at Mulreesh), see NR36NE 21.

(NR 4002 6896; NR 4006 6904; NR 4010 6903; NR 4017 6874; NR 4023 6861) The old lead mines at Mulreesh have been worked from Norse times, but most actively in the 18th century. The most impressive remaining feature is a rubble engine house, now roofless, with a short range of cottages adjoining. Nearby is a concrete-lined rubble dam which supplied water to a group of bouldings, now ruinous.

J R Hume 1977.

The old lead mine-workings extend over an area some 700m, N-S, by 200m centred on NR 401 688. The openings to about ten shaft and drift mines are visible. The engine house is at NR 4018 6873; the dam, outside the general field of activity, is at NR 4015 6825.

Visited by OS (J M) 3 April 1979.

The most extensive remains of lead mines on Islay are at Mulreesh where there are abandoned shafts, waste-dumps and an adit, together with the ruins of a rubble-built engine house and an ore-dressing plant, all belonging to the latest phases of mining activity in the second half of the 19th century. Much of the limestone was evidently ore-bearing at the surface and, according to Dr John Walker, this was the first recorded discovery of metallic veins in limestone in Scotland. [See NR36NE 21 for a general description of lead mining on Islay] Earlier mining operations are indicated by a surrounding field of open-cast workings, the ubiquitous 'trenching ... not above six feet deep' observed by Pennant in 1772 and the 'innumerable shallow pits and trenches' criticised by another visitor to the mines sometime before 1810.

Visited by RCAHMS May 1967

T Pennant 1774; J Williams 1810; RCAHMS 1984a

Mulreesh was the principal works of the Islay Lead Mining company and represents the largest lead works in the study area and the last to be worked. A NW trending vein of calcite and dolomite with galena, sphallerite, pyrite and chalcopyrite was worked in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Mulreesh earthworks are set in a valley bottom currently used as rough grazing. Four dwellings and a series of shafts have been identified lying on the 80m contour in an area to the S of the later 19th century workings. three adjoining rubbish-filled shafts are flanked by a track way that leads to a hollow way running between buildings A, B, C and D. Within this knoll, a water-filled adit drains southwards to eventually join a nearby burn. At the time of the survey, the adit contained water to the depth of about 1m and was free-flowing. The N bank of the adit overlies the boundary of building B, suggesting that the adit is later than the close. This assumption is supported by the fact that a box-drain in the centre of the metalled track is ocverlain by the adit bank.

Building A incorporates large blocks of roughly dressed Dalradian limestone, most probably quarried from the nearby workings. A large stone at the base of the southern end of building A has a sectioned shot hole (30mm in diameter). This shows that this building is either contemporary or later than the nearby workings. Building C has a rectangular enclosure with very pronounced upstanding earth banks. Building D adjoins parallel banks that flank a small track that runs westwards. To the S of this track an area of broad and narrow rig and furrow survives along with a small trial pit and a shaft.

M Cressey 1993.

This survey was undertaken in April 1994 as a follow-up study to previous work (supra).

The 1993 (Phase 1) survey identified a small settlement whose origins lie within the first phase of mining at the site.

60m W of this region lie the ruins of a possible smithy or small workshop. N of the phase 1 earthworks is the rubble-built engine house that has been incorporated onto the gable end of a single-storey building. This building was last occupied as recently as the early 1970s. N of this building are the ruins of two cottages that were associated with the mine. NW of the engine house is a large tract of flat featureless land with only the remains of fenced-off mine shafts. The shafts close to the engine house are lined with dressed stone. The others are fenced off and too dangerous to investigate.

The North Shaft is now flooded completely but the remains of what appears to be winding gear and timbers survive. This region contains the largest tailings dumps in the area. Some of the tailings dumps are grassed over, but where they are exposed, an assortment of large irregular-shaped rocks of limestone and quartz can be seen. Immediately N of the North Shaft, a large open cast runs close to a drystone boundary wall that incorporates waste rock from the mine. Cut into the escarpment is an adit with a rubbish-filled entrance. Two large banks approximately 1.5m high lead away from the adit to an area littered with mine tailings.

S of the North Shaft, a large ovoid feature could be a catch basin for holding water and may have originally been supplied by a series of wooden troughs from the North Shaft.

The remains of the Mulreesh mine are more extensive than previously thought. Only a fragment remains of what must have been an intensive operation, particularly in the mid-18th century when steam power was used to drain the mine. Two phases of mining can be established.

Acknowledgements: The writer wishes to acknowledge Mr D Boyed, Factor of the Islay Estates for allowing access to land and historical data. Roger McWee is thanked for his assistance in the field. The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland is thanked for their financial support.

Sponsor: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

M Cressey 1994.

NR 402 685 Twelve pits were opened in connection with the refurbishment of overhead power lines across the remains of the mine complex (Cressey 1993). They produced limited evidence of archaeological remains: trackway make-up matrix; the upcast from the westernmost shaft; and garden soils related to nearby cottages.

Sponsor: Scottish Hydro-Electric plc.

K Speller 1997


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