Wanlockhead owes its existence to the lead and other mineral deposits in the surrounding hills. These deposits were first exploited by the Romans, and from the 13th century they began to be worked again. The village was founded permanently in 1680 when the Duke of Buccleuch built a lead smelting plant and workers' cottages. Lead, zinc, copper and silver were mined nearby, as well as some of the world's purest gold at 22.8 carats, which was used to make the Scottish Crown. Wanlockhead became known as "God's treasure house" from the richness of its mineral resources. Lead mining declined in the 20th century and finished in the 1950s.