Index  Dorothy Wordsworth

Tour in Scotland

They went to school and some of them learned Greek

Homer and Virgil among the miners

Halfway between Dumfries and Glasgow, in the Southern Uplands, the two former mining villages Wanlockhead and Leadhills are the highest situated villages in Scotland (over 1,300 ft). In summer the temperature fluctuates on average around 13 degrees, in winter between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius. Dark clouds constantly glide over this bleak land, and the sun, as it breaks through, casts spots of light on the treeless slopes. The void here is impressive.

Zinc, copper, silver and especially lead were mined around Leadhills and Wanlockhead from Roman times until the 1930s. In this land of wind, rain and heavy underground work, the Wordsworths encountered children familiar with the literature of classical antiquity and shepherds who tended their sheep with a book on their lap.

Naked Scotland
"We now felt indeed that we were in Scotland; there was a natural peculiarity in this place,” Dorothy notes in her travel journal. It was the fifth day after their departure and they were now entering 'simple, naked Scotland'. The heather by the roadside was blooming with brilliant colors.

We travelled along the vale without appearing to ascend for some miles; all the reaches were beautiful, in exquisite proportion, the hills seeming very high from being so near to us. It might have seemed a valley which nature had kept to herself for pensive thoughts and tender feelings, but that we were reminded at every turning of the road of something beyond by the coal-carts which were travelling towards us. Though these carts broke in upon the tranquillity of the glen, they added much to the picturesque effect of the different views, which indeed wanted nothing, though perfectly bare, houseless, and treeless.

After some time our road took us upwards towards the end of the valley. Now the steeps were heathy all around. Just as we began to climb the hill we saw three boys who came down the cleft of a brow on our left; one carried a fishing-rod, and the hats of all were braided with honeysuckles; they ran after one another as wanton as the wind. I cannot express what a character of beauty those few honeysuckles in the hats of the three boys gave to the place: what bower could they have come from? We walked up the hill, met two well-dressed travellers, the woman barefoot. Our little lads before they had gone far were joined by some half-dozen of their companions, all without shoes and stockings. They told us they lived at Wanlockhead, the village above, pointing to the top of the hill; they went to school and learned Latin, Virgil, and some of them Greek, Homer. 

The Wordsworths continued on their way. Dorothy writes that 'the air was very cold, and one could not help thinking what it must be in winter, when those hills, now 'red brown,' should have their three months' covering of snow'. That night the travelers moved into Leadhills on the other side of the hill. After dinner they went for a stroll.

We talked with one of the miners, who informed us that the building which we had supposed to be a school was a library belonging to the village.  He said they had got a book into it a few weeks ago, which had cost thirty pounds, and that they had all sorts of books. 'What! have you Shakespeare?' 'Yes, we have that', and we found, on further inquiry, that they had a large library, of long standing, that Lord Hopetoun had subscribed liberally to it, and that gentlemen who came with him were in the habit of making larger or smaller donations. Each man who had the benefit of it paid a small sum monthly - I think about fourpence.

Reading on the moor

The next day it was still cold and the wind was blowing. The Wordsworths set off at nine o'clock.

Our road carried us down the valley, and we soon lost sight of Leadhills, for the valley made a turn almost immediately, and we saw two miles, perhaps, before us; the glen sloped somewhat rapidly - heathy, bare, no hut or house.  Passed by a shepherd, who was sitting upon the ground, reading, with the book on his knee, screened from the wind by his plaid, while a flock of sheep were feeding near him among the rushes and coarse grass - for, as we descended we came among lands where grass grew with the heather.

Leadhills Miners' Library

De bibliotheek in Leadhills, gesticht in 1741, is de oudste uitleenbibliotheek van het Verenigd Koninkrijk. Initiatiefnemer was James Stirling, de manager van de mijnen in dienst van de Scottish Mining Company. Stirling zorgde voor een aanzienlijke verbetering van de leefomstandigheden van de mijnwerkers. Hij reduceerde de werkdagen tot zes uur en verbeterde de gezondheidszorg onder meer door een arts in dienst te nemen. Ook stimuleerde hij de bouw van stenen cottages met een tuintje en verbeterde hij het onderwijs, zodat de medewerkers een zinvolle invulling konden geven aan hun vrije tijd.

In 1821 bevatte de bibliotheek 1500 boeken, in 1904 was dat bestand uitgegroeid tot 3800 boeken. Het succes van de bibliotheek in Leadhills inspireerde de mijnwerkers in Wanlockhead in 1756 om dit voorbeeld te volgen. Op de dorpsschool kregen getalenteerde jongens - ja, we hebben het hier over eind achttiende, begin negentiende eeuw - extra aandacht. Over een periode van veertig jaar volgden veertig ex-leeringen een universitaire opleiding en werden dokter, advocaat, leraar, dominee of ambtenaar.  

Op dezelfde dag waarop de Wordsworths uit Leadhills vertrokken, kwamen ze 's avonds aan in Lanark. Daar had Robert Owen, een andere sociaal pionier, zes jaar eerder een katoenweverij overgenomen. Net als James Stirling had ook hij belangrijke verbeteringen aangebracht in de werk- en leefomstandigheden van de fabrieksarbeiders.

De beide bibliotheken in Leadhills en Wanlockhead, met hun lange rijen in prachtig leer gebonden boeken, zijn vandaag de dag nog te bezichtigen.