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Wanlockhead Beam Engine

A Scheduled Monument in Mid and Upper Nithsdale, Dumfries and Galloway

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Latitude: 55.3991 / 55°23'56"N

Longitude: -3.7855 / 3°47'7"W

OS Eastings: 287022

OS Northings: 613133

OS Grid: NS870131

Mapcode National: GBR 2600.7D

Mapcode Global: WH5TW.TKKB

Entry Name: Wanlockhead Beam Engine

Scheduled Date: 30 November 1981

Last Amended: 22 August 2017

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90310

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Industrial: engine, engine house

Location: Sanquhar

County: Dumfries and Galloway

Electoral Ward: Mid and Upper Nithsdale

Traditional County: Dumfriesshire


The monument comprises a water-powered beam pumping engine dating to around 1870. Also known as a water-bucket pump the engine consists of a wooden beam mounted on a stone column and was used to pump water from the Straitsteps lead mine. Immediately to the south of the beam engine are the excavated remains of a horse gin. The beam engine and horse gin are located above the Straitsteps mine and overlook the Wanlock Water to the south.

This beam engine is the only example of its type to survive intact in its working location. The beam measures c.8.5m in length and is fashioned from two pieces of pitch-pine, strengthened by moulded wooden pad plates at the ends and centre. These are bound together by a combination of iron straps and tie-rods. The beam is mounted on a dressed sandstone pillar, measuring c.4m in height. Although no trace of the bucket remains, a stone lined pit preserves its drainage outlet at the bottom. The other end of the beam is positioned over the Straitsteps mine shaft which is now capped. To the south of the beam engine are the remains of a circular horse gin measuring 11m across.

The scheduled area is irregular in shape, includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduled area specifically excludes all modern fences and gates, signage, the top 20cm of the gravelled areas of the former horse gin, the wooden tripod structure above the mine shaft, the modern cap for the mine shaft and the modern retaining wall to the north of the beam engine.  

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is a water-powered beam pumping engine which dates to the last quarter of the 19th century and it ceased to be used sometime around 1910.  The pumping engine survives in its original form and is the only known example of this type to still be in its working location in the United Kingdom. The Wanlockhead beam engine is an example of an early type of pumping machinery that was rapidly supplanted by  steam-powered  engines. It represents an early technological advance in mine dewatering and its survival is important in documenting the improvements in this type of machinery over time.

Although the engine remains largely intact, some components have been replaced. The main beam was replaced in 2003 as the original was decaying. The wooden shaft-head structure which is visible on early photographs of the pumping-engine had disappeared by the mid-20th century and was reconstructed anew in 1989. The nature of the surviving iron fittings suggest they were manufactured using 19th century machine tools, confirming the late 19th century date of its construction.

The engine, a type affectionately known as a 'bobbin' John' because of their nodding action, lifted water from the lowest levels of Straitsteps mine. Water from a hillside water tank (which no longer survives) was piped via a culvert under the road to a bucket at the right end of the engine. The weight of the full bucket pushed it down, pulling the pump rod up. As the bucket reached the bottom it triggered a valve and emptied. As the bucket rose back up the pump rod was pulled back down. At the top the bucket filled again and the cycle was repeated as long as there was a supply of water from the upper tank.

The site was excavated during the 1970's,and it was at this time that the remains of the horse gin were revealed. The horse gin is believed to predate the erection of the beam engine and was used to haul miners and ore from the mine beneath. There is potential  for further archaeological remains at the site; the capped mine is likely to contain associated remains such as the rest of the pumping rod arm, pipes, ladders and platforms. The site may also have evidence for the 18th century 'Black Engine' which was a waterwheel-powered pumping engine that predated the  water-powered beam pumping engine.

Contextual Characteristics

The monument is a visible reminder of a once important and extensive lead mining industry. It is the only known example of a water-powered beam pumping engine of its kind to survive in its working location. The rarity of this type of engine can be explained by the rapid rate in which pump technology developed. Such beam engines were documented in Scotland as early as the mid-18th century. However, engines of this kind were quickly replaced by steam-powered pumps.

The example at Wanlockhead appears to date to the last quarter of the 19th century when steam-powered engines were common. Its function was as an auxiliary pump to drain the abandoned Straitsteps mine to prevent it from flooding the nearby working Bay mine.  Although old technology by this time, it was probably erected as it would have required little oversight or maintenance – with an adequate water supply, the pump would have worked continuously.

The monument is located in the village of Wanlockhead which was once at the centre of the lead mining industry in Scotland. The Lowther Hills in which the village is situated were first explored during prehistoric times, but lead mining started here commercially during the 16th century under the Hope Family. The potential to mine lead, zinc, copper, silver and gold in the area gave it the name 'God's Treasure House'.

The extensive mining landscape surrounding Wanlockhead includes the remains of the Loch Nell Mine, the Pates Knowe Smelter, the Bay Mine with engine base and the Queensberry smelting mill (all included within the scheduled area of SM5597) as well as the Miner's library (LB17192, category A) and Wanlockhead village itself. The relative completeness of the surrounding industrial environment further enhances the unique survival of this monument. The beam-engine is an evocative reminder of the once extensive lead mining industry in the Lowther Hills.

Associative Characteristics

The pumping-engine has become an important icon for the village of Wanlockhead. It is also the central image for many publications advertising the site to the public as a means to promote tourism. Although intended simply to pump water from the mine, the pumping-engine is attractive and well-designed. The engine plays an integral part in the aesthetic qualities of the post-lead mining landscape, accompanied by the white washed miner's cottages of Wanlockhead, abandoned iron rail wagons and grey spoil heaps.

Statement of national significance

The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the past, in particular the use of water-powered beam pumping engines as part of the lead mining industry. The monument is the only known example of a  water-powered beam pumping engine in the UK still in its working location. It is a rare survival of a once common type of technology, as such pumps were replaced with steam-powered beam engines during the 19th century. Its importance is accentuated as it is a component within the wider mining landscape of Wanlockhead, which can still be readily understood. As the only example of its type still in its working location, the loss of this monument would significantly diminish our future ability to attempt to understand this stage in the development of the pumping-engine and its impact on lead mining in Scotland.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 46408 (accessed on 03/05/2017).

Historic Environment Scotland Wanlockhead Beam Engine - Statement of Significance ( (accessed on 03/07/2017).

Dumfries and Galloway HER/SMR Reference MDG237 (accessed on 03/05/2017). (accessed on 03/07/2017).

Downs-Rose, G & Harvey, G & W., 1973. 'Water Bucket Pumps and the Wanlockhead Engine', Industrial Archaeology, vol 10, no. 2.

Smout, T C, (1960-63). 'The Lead Mines at Wanlockhead' Trans Dumfriesshire & Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Soc, vol 39
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Wanlockhead Beam Engine
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HER/SMR Reference


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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