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Heavy Metals

Surface workmen and the ore-crushing machinery
© Denbighshire Record Office/p>


People have used lead for over 8,000 years. It is malleable so it was easy to work it into useful objects. It is resistant to corrosion, so lead objects had a long life.

The Romans used lead for their water pipes. Our word for plumber comes from 'plumbum' the Latin word for lead. In medieval times lead was used as loom weights and for the roofs of churches, monasteries and castles.

Lead was used in mirrors, pewter and in glass. By the time of Elizabeth I lead was used in make-up, while the new muskets fired lead shot.

In recent times lead has appeared everywhere: in paints, in batteries, as solder and in tin cans. Unfortunately, lead has proved to be both poisonous to people and animals. Consequently, nowadays its use is limited.



The Greeks and Romans used calamine, a natural form of zinc, to make brass. The calamine when added to copper made a very yellow alloy that was highly sought after. Yet no-one discovered zinc itself until 1520.

In the 19th century, industrialists mastered the practice of galvanising iron using zinc. The zinc stopped the iron from corroding. One product, corrugated iron, caught on quickly. Countless industrial buildings had roofs made from corrugated iron. Sometimes even whole buildings were made from it.

The locomotive Henrietta at Minera Lead Mines. The mines had their own branch line.
© Denbighshire Record Office