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Dr Richard Hubbard

Dr Richard Hubbard's #MyBiosphere

The Isle of Man is the only entire country to boast UNESCO Biosphere status, reflecting it is a special place for people and nature. In a year-long series of articles, authors from different walks of Manx life offer a personal perspective on #MyBiosphere. This month, Dr Richard Hubbard writes:

My mother-in-law, Annie Couldwell (nee Kinrade), has told me great stories about Laxey harbour wall.

A Laxey girl born two years before the closure of the Great Mine, she always spoke fondly of her childhood home. A favourite game was to wait until the harbourmaster became distracted and then to disobey his orders and jump into the harbour.

The fun really started at that point as the children greatly enjoyed being admonished and chased by the poor old harbourmaster as he scampered after them. A Laxey version of the Dukes of Hazard, we might say.

The Kinrades owned the Laxey Bakehouse and wartime stories of delivery rounds and prisoners of war are legion.

Laxey is very much in the family bloodline and, as a geologist, the mine has long been a fascination to me.

When Annie died 18 months ago, I vowed to keep her memory alive and cousin Val Kinrade and myself have incorporated a not-for-profit charitable company called Visit Laxey Valley.

We work with stakeholders to raise awareness of Laxey as an extremely interesting and beautiful heritage tourism destination and hope to boost visitor numbers accordingly.

Laxey Valley remains a potential future World Heritage site and our ambition is to achieve that exalted position and sit alongside the Isle of Man UNESCO Biosphere Reserve to showcase all that is good about the Isle of Man.

As a geologist, I have been fortunate enough to have lived and worked all over the world and, as my wife Tina will attest, once a geologist, always so.

Family holidays are still a thinly veiled disguise to look at ever more rocks; focused, of course, towards the beach or the mountains.

To encourage the family on a day-long hike, a notorious saying of mine is ‘we are almost there, just around the next headland’.

So, you will gather that the Isle of Man is a perfect place for me. Wonderful scenery, genuinely interesting and friendly people and great heritage and natural sciences constantly on display.

Andrew Scarffe perfectly summed up the heritage tourism opportunity in his excellent 2004 book when he said Laxey Valley has almost unlimited potential as a tourist attraction with no equal on a worldwide scale to develop an entire village as an industrial and mining centre.

The potential lies in the wealth of its genuine heritage and the time is now ripe to ensure that the memories of those men, women, boys and girls who once toiled in the often appalling and pitiful conditions of the Manx mining industry will never be forgotten.

There we have it: the mission statement for Visit Laxey Valley. We are working with Reverend Jo Dudley and Archdeacon Andrew Brown to seek CoE approvals for Christ Church to become the Visitor Reception Centre, which seems appropriate as it was the miners’ church, and with Garff Commissioners to open a Visitor Learning Centre in the village centre where we can provide educational days for schoolchildren and interactive displays covering mining heritage, the Biosphere and Dark Skies.

The aim is to tell the heritage story through the eyes of the Laxey community as it was during the “Golden Age for Mining”, circa 1865. The star of the show is 10-year-old miners’ son Tommy Kinrade and his auntie Annie Quayle, the unsung hero who worked on the washing floors.

Our stretch objective is for Lady Isabella, in the form of a costume volunteer, to meet visitors as they step off the MER and for Robert Casement to be standing nearby to explain exactly how and why he designed and built that magnificent water wheel.

Dr Richard Hubbard, a Stanford graduate and former worldwide Chief Geologist at BP, has roots in Laxey through his wife’s mother’s family, the Kinrades and their father in law, Edwin Kneale, the man who saved the Laxey Wheel in 1946.

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