River Cree at Sunset
|Creetown, Scotland : Lead Mines and Shot Mill :
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Lead Mining and Creetown Shot Mill :
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The mineralisation of the rocks around Creetown associated with the granite there has been mined for lead and zinc at various periods from 1760 to the 1880s. The whole area between Gatehouse of Fleet and Newton Stewart has been rich enough for some fairly long-lasting mines to be established, although all are now abandoned or exhausted. Lead sulphide (galena) was the main ore mined, although in later periods zinc sulphide (calamine) was also mined.
The construction of the Military Road in 1763-1764 from Gatehouse to Creetown had uncovered some seams of lead at Blackcraig, which were exploited by the Craigtown Mining Company on land owned by Patrick Heron. It appears that Heron and the Dumfries merchant William Carruthers had been considering mining as early as 1755, founding a company in 1758, but the discovery beside the Military Road gave them the impetus to start operations. Besides Carruthers and Heron, the adventurers included three London and one Edinburgh merchant. Trials may have started in 1764, but plans of 1768 show proposals rather than an actual mine. The height of operations was to be from 1770 - 1790, the mine becoming harder to work from then onwards due to water problems. The end of the Napoleonic Wars saw the re-opening of Spanish mines and a depression in lead prices that lasted until the 1850s.
Blackcraig was never very profitable, the 1783 accounts illustrating a loss of £ 150 1 shilling on expenses of £ 903 14 shillings and 5½ pence and sales of 761 bars (50 tons) of bar lead at £ 753 10 shillings and 5½ pence. Cost-cutting measures improved the output to 65 tons but the profit was only £ 150. Part of the problem appears to have been inefficiency in smelting the ore, much ore thus being wasted. This indicates that the furnaces may not have been enclosed designs such as were used at Wanlockhead lead mine. Papers on the mine include a 1792 design for a Smelting Mill that may never have been constructed.
As the ore seam ran into the lands of Machermore, its owner Patrick Dunbar also opened a mine. which also ran into problems as the most accessible seams were exhausted by 1793. For a time, it was exporting 400 tons of ore per year by sea to be smelted in Chester.
From 1853, a revival in lead prices brought about the re-opening of the Blackcraig mines for mining both lead ore and zinc ore. Figures from then until 1880 show bursts in production, with periods of low yield, or even (1861-1865) barely twenty tons of ore in a year. West Blackcraig began with 501 tons of ore (383 tons of lead) in 1853, ending at 37 ore (28 lead) in 1871. East Blackcraig - which may be Machermore - began 1853 with corresponding figures of 137 ore and 106 lead, had its highest output in 1876 with 455 ore and 341 lead, figures ending in 1880 with just 197 ore and 147 lead. However, East Blackcraig also produced 1,000 tons of zinc during the 1870s, which may have justified lead production.
Creetown benefited mainly from the construction of a lead shot mill by the Craigtown Mining Company in about 1780. In 1783 the shot mill was buying in 49 tons of lead for £ 701 13 shillings and 10 pence from the Mining part of the company, adding value by converting the lead into 'Patent and Common Shot' sold for £ 1,044 8 shillings and 6½ pence. When costs of £ 93 6 shillings and 3 pence were deducted, that made a very reasonable profit of £ 249 8 shillings and 3½ pence. This appears to have been a good year; the average was a £ 200 profit, giving the company reasonable viability despite rising lead costs. However, in 1783 the waterwheel and lade needed repairs and a better access road; from this, it is evident that the furnaces needed to melt the lead before casting used water-powered bellows.
It is uncertain, but fairly probable, that the site at one time held a shot-tower for drop-casting of lead shot. The alternative method was the casting of lead into moulds, a process that normally left a casting-sprue to be cut and polished away once the mould was opened. This labour-intensive system did not produce an absolutely spherical shot, which might lead to guns exploding. The lead of the mines near Creetown was very rich in arsenic, which made it very suitable for drop-casting. At the same time, the slag from the process was very poisonous and the spoil-heaps are very difficult to deal with. The usual solution has been to cap the sites of leadworks and spoil-heaps with clay before building on the land or using it for non-agricultural purposes.
The process of drop-casting was an ingenious process in which lead was poured through a perforated container and the droplets allowed to fall through the air before quenching in a tank of water. A free-falling liquid behaves exactly as it would if at rest in orbit, - surface tension makes it try to form a perfect sphere. There is some deformation from air drag and water impact, so the lead was mixed with arsenic to make it set rapidly before hitting the water. Graded in sieves and bagged, the shot could then be sold. This remarkable process produced better shot than can be made in a mould and was first patented in Bristol; 1770s shot towers there and in Chester are still in use.
Source : Ian Donnachie : The Industrial Archaeology of Galloway : Published by David & Charles. First Edition, 1971. Reprinting expected shortly. Dumfries & Galloway Library Number : CO 227317.
Information on pages : 117, 119-124, 130.
Details of drop-casting and site restoration researched by Richard Edkins.
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Last updated 7th March 2000.