This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.
We don't have any photos of this monument yet. Why don't you be the first to send us one?
If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.
Latitude: 55.8412 / 55°50'28"N
Longitude: -6.1531 / 6°9'11"W
OS Eastings: 140092
OS Northings: 668689
OS Grid: NR400686
Mapcode National: GBR CF68.LC8
Mapcode Global: WGZHT.GF5X
Entry Name: Mulreesh lead mines, Mulreesh, Islay
Scheduled Date: 3 August 2022
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
Source ID: SM13753
Schedule Class: Cultural
Category: Industrial: mines, quarries
Location: Killarow and Kilmeny
County: Argyll and Bute
Electoral Ward: Kintyre and the Islands
Traditional County: Argyllshire
The monument comprises the remains of Mulreesh lead mines which were established by 1770 and partly cleared for salvage in 1904. The remains include evidence of mining methods including open-cast excavations and mine shafts, above ground structures, spoil heaps, pits, quarries, a reservoir, mill pond and lade and other associated features. The site, located on the northeast of Islay, covers the summit and gentle upper slopes of Mullach Buidhe at around 80-100m above sea level.
The visible remains of Mulreesh lead mines are extensive and date mostly from two periods - the mid-late 18th century and the late 19th century, and consists of the following:
• The southwest portion of the site contains a mill pond (now dry) and lade. This water supply powered a stone crushing mill to the east-northeast. Located east-northeast of the mill pond is a reservoir (now dry) of rubble and mortar construction dating from around 1880 and forming part of the washings. Immediately southeast of the reservoir is the remains of the stone crushing mill, including a stone lined wheel pit and concrete plinth with metal fixings. Adjacent is the remains of the three-roomed office building constructed from quarried stone and mortar. Around 175m east-northeast of the office is the remains of the gunpowder store, now visible as low stone and mortar walls.
• To the north of the reservoir and office are the remains of three infilled shafts. A dug-out drain leads north for around 250m to the adit - a stone cut tunnel connected to shafts for drainage and access. Southwest of the adit is the remains of the two-roomed smithy of quarried stone and mortar construction.
• Southeast of the adit is the remains of South Mulreesh, a farmstead and possible mine workers' housing, now visible as footings. Located north of and above the adit is a series of infilled mine shafts.
• Around 200m north of the adit is the remains of North Mulreesh, a farmstead and likely mine workers' housing, mostly of quarried stone and mortar construction. West of North Mulreesh is a collection of buildings constructed from quarried stone and mortar, these are known to have been mine workers' houses. The land around the houses is covered with evidence for small scale quarrying and pitting and the open drawing shaft.
• The most northern portion of the site has evidence for infilled mineshafts, an adit and spoil heaps and tailings. It includes one of the main mineshafts, now flooded, surround by large spoil heaps and tailings leading south. To the west is evidence for a dug-out and levied water catch basin or reservoir, a line of pits or small shafts and spoil heaps.
• At the centre of the site and adjacent to road is the location of the demolished former engine house, and not included in the schedule. Close by is the engine shaft and ladder shaft and a partly infilled mineshaft. South of the engine house is a quarry and the remains of the quarried stone and mortar constructed miners' dry – a group of buildings and stores for holding and drying clothing and equipment. Finally, around 150m west and southwest of the miners' dry and two stretches of open-cast mines with related spoil heaps.
The scheduled area is irregular, consisting of six distinct areas; one southwest, southeast, northwest and two northeast of the road junction and the smallest area around 230m east of the road junction. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. All fences, gates, pylons/telegraph poles and signs are specifically excluded from the schedule. The site of the former engine house is not included in the schedule.
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):
a. The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the industrial heritage of Scotland, in particular the history of 18th and 19th century lead mining. Lead mining was a significant industry to Scotland in the pre-industrial and early industrial revolution periods.
b. The monument retains structural, architectural, decorative or other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past. The surviving elements help us understand the functions and processes of major lead mines operating in 18th and 19th century Scotland.
c. The monument is a rare example of an extensive, early industrial era lead mine with clear, upstanding remains covering almost all the contemporary mining functions, that was located in one of the most important lead mining areas in Scotland.
d. The monument is a well-preserved example of an industrial practice that had a key role in local, regional, national and international economic trade in18th and 18th century Scotland and is therefore an important representative of this monument type.
e. The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past. The remains reflect the development and peak of the Scottish lead mining industry.
f. The monument makes a significant contribution to today's landscape and/or our understanding of the historic landscape by serving as a physical reminder of the importance of lead mining in 18th and 19th century Scotland and its role in society and the economy.
g. The monument has significant associations with historical, traditional, social or artistic figures, events or movements. Mulreesh was the main mine for the Islay Lead Mining Company and the last to operate on Islay. Islay has the second-most important deposits of lead in the country, behind Leadhills-Wanlockhead, with a relatively high amount of silver increasing the historic economic value of the mines. Mulreesh had a clear national standing among contemporary lead mines.
Assessment of Cultural Significance
This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:
Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)
Mulreesh lead mines were established and operational as a commercial activity by 1770, initially run by Charles Freebairn. Records indicate Messrs Hodgson, Smyth and Hawkins were operating at Mulreesh between 1786-90. This mid to late 18th century period represents the first phase of modern industrial activity on the site. The lead mines had productive and quiet periods where extraction was affected by the leases available on the land and changes in lease ownership. The Islay Lead Mine Company ran Mulreesh from 1862-1896 and this represents the second phase of modern mining activity on the site. Mulreesh was the principle mine for the company and was the most mechanised on Islay. It was also the last to operate on Islay, closing at the very end of the 19th century; a salvage company were brought in to clear some of the site in 1904.
The mines at Mulreesh exploited a northwest-running vein of calcite and dolomite with galena, sphalerite, pyrite and chalcopyrite. The mines were extensive; in 1770 a 24m long shoot (a mass of ore deposited in a vein). was mined to a depth of 50m. The mine was later dug to a depth of 114m and worked over four levels, each 23m apart. In the second phase of activity, the workings followed cross-course mineral veins and created interconnected galleries. In 1874, the mine manager for the site, a Mr Vercoe, produced a schematic section drawing of the mine shafts and galleries showing the worked ground and providing the names and function of the shafts. This second period of industrial activity is very well attested by the remains on the site today.
The visible remains of Mulreesh lead mines are extensive and provide physical evidence of almost all the processes found at a 18th/19th century lead mine. To the southwest of the site is the mill pond and lade. The mill pond was filled by water carried by a lade from Loch Airigh nan Caisteal, 3km west-northwest, which was dammed to control a regular supply of water. The mill pond lade would have fed and powered a stone crushing mill to the east-northeast. The lade also filled a later reservoir immediately east-northeast of the mill pond. The reservoir, built after 1878, is sub-triangular on plan, with internal sides around 20m long.
The reservoir is partly set into the slope and formed by rubble-built walls around 1.5m thick, the interior has evidence of a mortar lining. The reservoir formed part of the washings where ore was crushed and washed. The reservoir may also have fed the stone crushing mill adjacent. Immediately southeast of the reservoir is the remains of the stone crushing mill, including a stone lined wheel pit and concrete plinth with metal fixings. A trip hammer or stamp probably existed and was operated by the mill for crushing the ore. The crushed ore would then be washed to separate the lead from the dead rock. The mill pond, lade, reservoir and crushing mill formed a key part of the mining process - separating and processing the lead ore from stone. Next to the mill is the office, it is rectangular on plan, measuring around 14m long by 5m wide. The office is sub-divided into three rooms with walls of quarried limestone blocks. A relatively modern stone buttress has been added to the southeast corner. At NR 4034 6826, east-northeast of the office, is the remains of a building, thought to be the gunpowder store. The store is L-shaped on plan, measuring around 8.5m by 4m, with a projection at one end. The store walls are of quarried limestone blocks with mortar and up to a maximum of four courses high.
To the north of the reservoir and office are the remains of three infilled shafts. A dug-out drain runs north for around 250m to the adit - a stone cut tunnel connected to shafts for allowing water drainage and also access. Southwest of the adit is the remains of the two-roomed smithy, up to 15m long by 5m wide, of quarried stone and mortar construction. The smithy walls are almost complete to wall-head height, the two rooms appear to have been originally interconnected. A vertical slot, now blocked, in a gable end might be evidence for its use as a smithy. Recent fieldwork recovered a lump of slag from near the offices, this indicates that lead ore may have been smelted on site, perhaps by the smithy. The smithy was a key role in the mining process making and mending tools, equipment and possibly smelting work.
Around 50m east of the smithy is the remains of South Mulreesh, a farmstead and possible mine workers' housing, now visible as footings. Located immediately above the adit, on higher ground, is a series of three infilled mineshafts. Around 200m north of the adit is the remains of North Mulreesh, a farmstead and likely mine workers' housing, mostly of quarried stone and mortar construction. West of North Mulreesh, across the modern road, is a collection of buildings constructed from quarried stone and mortar, these are known to have been mine workers' houses. The cottages arranged into two groups probably represent the remains of a few houses and related outbuildings, one in the form of a row and the other roughly L-plan. The land around the houses is covered with evidence for small scale quarrying and pitting and the open drawing shaft.
The most northern portion of the site has evidence for infilled shafts and spoil heaps and tailings. This area of mining, north of the more recent dry-stone wall, runs in a southwest-northeast direction, with an escarpment containing five small pits and an infilled shaft. A large tailings dump and an adit are located nearby. To the northwest is one of the main mine shafts, the north shaft, now flooded, surround by large spoil heaps and tailings leading south. The western edge of the site has evidence for a dug-out water catch basin or reservoir, sub-rectangular on plan with banks up to 2m high. The possible catch basin may have been for holding water supplied by a series of wooden troughs from the north shaft. Nearby is a line of pits or small shafts and spoil heaps.
The centre of the site is the location of the former engine house, now a pile of rubble following recent demolition (this area of land is not included in the scheduled area). The engine house was related to a beam engine imported from mines in Cornwall in 1873. Immediately west of the site of the engine house is the ladder shaft, lined with dressed stone and around 40m deep, and the engine shaft. Further southwest is the drawing shaft where fresh air was circulated into the mines. South of the engine house is a quarry and the remains of the miners' dry – a group of buildings and stores for holding and drying clothing and equipment. The miners' dry has a main building, constructed from quarried limestone, lime mortar and some bricks (imprinted with "73" for the year 1873). The miners' dry survives up to around 1.3m high and measures around 15m by 6m. There are the remains of some small, detached outbuildings with a yard or garden to the north.
Finally, around 150m west and southwest of the miners' dry are two stretches of open-cast mines or trials with related spoil heaps. One of the open-cast mines around 40m long, 1.2m in depth and up to 5m wide. There is a shaft adjacent to it, back-filled with tailings. The other open-cast mine runs parallel and around 100m to the south. The second example is around 30m long, 1.7m wide and 1m deep. These examples of open-cast mining could be early trials or evidence of mining exploration of the site.
The physical remains at Mulreesh represent the array of mining activities and processes that you would find at a lead mine almost all the functions and activities are identifiable and represented. It is very rare to have such a complete suite of functions so well preserved from a commercial venture in lead mining starting in at least the mid-18th century. The evidence for trials and open-cast mines is an indication of earlier mining at the site. This also provides physical evidence for the exploratory phase in lead mining – prospective mine owners would need to establish how much lead could be reasonably expected to be extracted from the bedrock.
The relatively late end to production at Mulreesh (1896) and later land use has contributed to the excellent preservation and survival of the site; its plan form can still be clearly understood and its scale appreciated. The degree to which Mulreesh survives is a significant aspect of its cultural significance. Study of the remains of the lead mines can help provide an understanding of the design, processes and functions of such large-scale industrial sites that were key to local, regional, national and even international trading economies.
Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)
The prospection for and extraction of lead at Mulreesh may date to before the 18th century. There is archaeological evidence that lead mining took place on Islay around 1360 in the form of core samples taken at Loch Lossit and Loch Bharradail, (Cressey, 1995). At this time Islay was held by John of Islay, who also used the title of Lord of the Isles and developed a vast lordship along the western seaboard and Isles. On Islay, the ceremonial centre at Finlaggan (scheduled monument SM2325) was the seat of the lordship and is only around 1km southwest of Mulreesh. There was a demand for lead in the medieval period for roofing and plumbing of major buildings such as churches and castles and for use as an alloy in producing pewter ware. The proximity of Finlaggan to the lead deposits at Mulreesh might represent a link between a medieval centre of power and control of, and access to, lead and other related precious metals such as silver. The earliest historical record for lead mining on Islay is from the 16th century. William Striveling, a royal servant, submitted expenses from 1512 to the Accounts of the High Treasurer of Scotland for assaying the lead mined on Islay.
Mulreesh lead mines were one of several mines on the island. Islay is the location of the second most important lead deposits in Scotland, with high concentrations of lead ore and relatively high amounts of precious metals, particularly sliver, within the ore. Not all the mines were operational at once, their production periods were affected by land leases and supply-demand issues. However, many of the mines had some operational overlap. In the Finlaggan area, archaeological survey and research has identified three other mines known as the West Shore (NR 390 683), Portaneilean (NR 391 678) and Robolls Mine (NR 388 671). A fourth additional mine in the area, known as Sean-ghairt (NR 377 678), appears to have been started but was soon abandoned. These smaller mines, all located around Loch Finlaggan and within a few kilometres of Mulreesh, provide further evidence for the rich lead deposits and potential historic economic value in the area. Together, the mines help to illustrate the industrial past of the Finlaggan area and strengthen the suggestion that the exploitation of lead in the area could predate the know late18th/early 19th century remains at Mulreesh.
Within a wider context, Mulreesh was regarded as one of the key lead mining locations in Scotland. Only the Leadhills-Wanlockhead area in Dumfries and Galloway was known to have a more abundant and productive supply of lead in Scotland. Islay was a key source of 18th and 19th century Scottish lead and would have formed an important part of the supply chain with it being shipped nationally and internationally. The mines at Wanlockhead (scheduled monument SM5597) and Leadhills (scheduled monument SM5817) are on a larger scale than Mulreesh but the type of remains, suite of functions and processes represented at all the sites is very similar. Mulreesh was the main and last mine to be worked on Islay and therefore an important site that represents the industrial past of a major and important lead mining region.
Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)
There are no known specific events or people related to Mulreesh lead mines that significantly contribute to the associative characteristics of the site. However, the place of Mulreesh within the wider industrial development or industrial revolution of rural Scotland is important. As the main, and eventually most mechanised mine, on Islay it represents the movement of economy from subsistence farming to industrial exploitation of resources. Therefore, it can help contribute to our understanding of the industrial revolution in late 18th and early 19th century Scotland.
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE IDs 38126, 83026 and 157886 (accessed on 11/05/2022).
Callender and Macaulay, R M and J. (1984). 'The ancient metal mines of the Isle of Islay, Argyll', in British Mining, vol. 24. Sheffield.
Caldwell, D H. (2008). Islay, The Land of the Lordship. Birlinn.
Caldwell, D H. (2010). Finlaggan report 2: archaeological survey of area around Loch Finlaggan. National Museums Scotland
Cressey, M. (1993). 'Research note: Mulreesh', in Discovery and Excavation Scotland.
Cressey, M. (1993). 'Islay (Killarow & Kilmeny parish): topographical surveys of four lead- mining sites in NE Islay, Argyll', in Discovery and Excavation Scotland.
Cressey, M. (1994). 'Mulreesh (Killarow & Kilmeny parish): survey of Mulreesh lead mine', in Discovery and Excavation Scotland.
Cressey, M. (1995). The Identification of Early Lead Mining: Environmental, Archaeological and Historical Perspectives from Islay, Inner Hebrides. PHD. Edinburgh University.
Hume, J R. (1977). The industrial archaeology of Scotland, 2, the Highlands and Islands. London.
Pennant, T. (1774). A tour in Scotland, and voyage to the Hebrides; MDCCLXXII (1772), 1, 2v. Chester.
RCAHMS. (1984). The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the monuments volume 5: Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oronsay. Edinburgh.
SCARF: Case Study 13 – Lead Mining on Islay. https://scarf.scot/regional/rarfa/regional-archaeological-research-framework-for-argyll-case-studies/case-study-13-lead-mining-on-islay/
(Accessed on 11/05/2022)
Speller, K. (1996). Mulreesh Lead Mines, Islay, GUARD Report 411. Glasgow.
Speller, K. (1997). 'Mulreesh Lead Mines (Killarow & Kilmeny parish), lead mines', in Discovery and Excavation Scotland.
Williams, J. (1810). The natural history of the mineral kingdom. London.
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
Other nearby scheduled monuments