New organisation celebrates historic village
“Seven Kingdoms in One Valley” - that is how we like to think of Laxey.
Its stunning landscape starts at the summit of Snaefell and extends all the way downhill through the villages of Agneash and Laxey to the superb coastal foreshore.
The Laxey Valley has so much: Nordic kings, compelling mining and seafaring heritage, beautiful open country perfect for hiking, biking and extreme sports, a great beach and foreshore and, of course, the Manx Dark Skies above. It creates a wonderful leisure and learning area and crosses almost all the Island’s biozones.
The mining heritage is probably the Valley’s best-known attribute and in his excellent 2004 book 'The Great Laxey Mine', author Andrew Scarffe commented: 'The future of the Great Laxey Mine lies within its tremendous and almost unlimited potential as a tourist attraction with no equal on a worldwide scale, centered, of course, on The Lady Isabella. The potential at Laxey lies in the wealth of its genuine heritage and development (of a Heritage Trail) would 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…'
Inspired by Andrew’s words, Valerie Kinrade and I have incorporated Visit Laxey Valley (VLV) as a not-for-profit, charitable company to promote tourism in Laxey Valley.
Our family has mining heritage in its blood. Valerie’s mother-in-law is the daughter of Mr. Edwin Kneale, the man who saved the Lady Isabella Water Wheel for the Island in 1936.
Driven by our own interest and participation in the natural world, we have broadened our remit to include the Biosphere and Manx Dark Skies. Laxey Valley is most definitely a 'special place for people and nature' and the photo illustrates the entire 'playground'.
Tourism is evolving and many coach and cruise ship parties now spend just a couple of hours in Laxey Valley to ride the Mountain Railway or visit the Lady Isabella Water Wheel and Great Laxey Mines Railway. There are few other organised activities to induce the tour companies to stay longer. VLV’s aim to is change that situation and to support the introduction of new attractions allowing visitors to enjoy a full day of discovery and activities for all ages and mobilities.
The mining heritage is the obvious attraction to develop first as it has long been a cornerstone of Manx society and culture.
The Great Laxey Mine was the largest producer of zinc in the entire British Isles for most of the 19th Century and, fortuitously, peak ore production coincided with the all-time high for worldwide base metal prices circa 1865.
The timing was perfect for Manx businessmen of the age. They speculated on the mine and successfully exploited the huge new demand for metals driven by the Victorian Industrial Revolution. Base metals sold for double the price achieved during much of the 20th Century.
There is a great story to tell of how Manx metals were used in almost all new industrial processes of the time; copper plating, galvanization for the prevention of rusting, vulcanization to strengthen rubber, electrical wiring, the world’s first lead acid battery, bronze and brass alloy production and lead pipe plumbing of entire cities to mention a few.
The new industrial world could not live without base metals. In addition, Manx lead was rich in silver and that too was a booming market throughout the 19th Century with a silver spoon in very many households.
Laxey Valley Heritage Trail – our story tellers
VLV aims to tell the heritage story through the lives of characters from the 'Golden Age for Mining' circa 1865. It certainly was a golden age for the 700 shareholders who invested in the Great Laxey Mine Company Limited, but, much less so for the workers who endured a much harder life.
In total, the mine employed 700 men, women, boys and girls, some of whom had arrived from Cornwall seeking better mining jobs than they had back home. VLV will tell the mining story through five fictitious characters from an extended mining family as well seven actual characters from the wider Island community. Visitors will listen to these characters comment on real events of the day.
The star of the show is the miner’s son, Tommy Kinrade. Ten years old and working as a wagon boy in the mine, he lived with his family of seven in a two-roomed cottage. Tommy’s uncle, Thomas Scarffe, the hard-rock miner, discovered the 110-fathom lode, by far the richest ever found in the mine. He was the most successful and best paid worker in the mine but was paid just 1% of the money the Chairman paid himself!
Tommy’s aunt, Annie Quayle, was paid just a pittance for working on the washing floors in all weathers, while his grandmother, Nora Kelly, was widowed when her husband Robert drowned down the mine in 1836. She was left in poverty to raise five children including little Tommy’s mother.
Juan Clague was Tommy’s cousin and friend who lost his father at sea when the Laxey Steamship Company’s ship 'Blende' was sunk on passage delivering Black Jack (zinc ore) to Swansea. Times were tough for the mining workers and their families.
The rich and powerful:
The dignitaries of the mining world certainly enjoyed life in a very different social stratum. Founder investors who bought shares in the mine in 1863 enjoyed a return of nine times their money over a 30-year period.
The Chairman and largest shareholder of the Great Laxey Mining Company Limited was banker Mr George William Dumbell. He was a powerful man with a vision but little apparent regard for the common man.
Mr Henry Bloom Noble, the richest resident of the Isle of Man, Chairman of the Steam Packet Company and founder of the Isle of Man Bank in 1865, was the second largest shareholder in the mine.
As history tells the story, both these power brokers were ruthless in business but unlike Mr Dumbell, Mr Noble's legacy is one of immense generosity to the Isle of Man.
No cast of characters is complete without Lady Isabella, the wife of Governor Charles Hope and the lady who gave her name to the Great Laxey Water Wheel in 1854.
Visitors will also hear from Robert Casement, the brilliant Victorian engineer who designed and built the Lady Isabella water wheel to drain the mine allowing it to be deepened and Captain Richard Rowe, the Mine Captain who brought his expertise from Cornwall to very successfully develop the mine.
The medics and clerics:
The final three characters were pillars of the local community. Dr Philip Elliot, the Mines Surgeon, attended a mine with little safety or environmental protection as known today. The Laxey midwife, hard-working Lizzie Faragher, lived on Ham & Egg Terrace and will talk of the reality of delivering babies in the mining community back in 1865. And finally, the very well-respected Chaplain of Christ Church, the miners’ church, Joseph Bellamy who served for a record period of 18 years.
The characters will introduce themselves to visitors through the planned QR codes on the Heritage Trail, as an audio-visual display in a Visitor Reception Centre and also by costume volunteers around the village centre.
Tim Kenyon, of Garff Commissioners, is recruiting volunteers for this venture especially those keen to play costume characters. Please contact Tim if you would like to play a part.
Visit Laxey Valley – projects for 2019:
VLV sees its role as working with all stakeholders to increase community interest and tourist numbers to Laxey Valley. Acting as a facilitator, VLV does not intend to become an owner of physical assets. Rather, its role is to support and champion local interests in any way that stakeholders find useful.
The first three projects for 2019 focus on developing the village centre area as a central hub for the Laxey Valley Heritage Trail around the MER Station in Laxey Village, the busiest spot in the valley, receiving some 80,000 passengers each year. Visitors usually arrive on the MER from Douglas or Ramsey, or they walk down from the coach park on Ham & Egg Terrace to connect with the Snaefell Mountain Railway.
Visitor Reception Centre:
VLV is coordinating with Reverend Jo Dudley and Archdeacon Andie Brown to seek Church of England approval to allow Christ Church to become the Visitor Reception Centre for the Heritage Trail in addition to the continuation of usual church services.
Situated adjacent to the MER station, Christ Church is the original miners’ church, consecrated in 1856. The plan is to host up to 100 visitors for an interactive audio-visual display where little Tommy will introduce himself and the other characters from the village. Please speak with the Reverend Jo Dudley if you have good ideas for the Visitor Reception Centre.
Laxey Valley Learning Centre:
VLV is working with Garff Commissioners to open a nearby Laxey Valley Learning Centre to showcase three themes: Mining heritage, UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man and Manx Dark Skies. VLV approaches each theme from both the educational learning needs of school groups and residents and as a complement to visitor programmes utilising interactive displays and engaging information. The preferred location is a converted Rose Garden Shelter next to the MER Station and Christ Church.
It seems a fair guess that passengers with as little as 10 minutes to wait for a Tram will pop their head into this learning centre next door.
People with more time to spend could become quite engrossed. VLV also has plans to use a much larger building for school groups and more ambitious visitor attractions such as a mini planetarium and, if appropriate, a Biosphere workshop area.
Valerie Kinrade is working with educational projects and local school groups so please contact her if you have interests in this area.
Heritage Trail Shuttle Bus:
VLV is finalising a schedule with Bus Vannin for a summer season shuttle bus to run around the full length of the Heritage Trail, from Agneash down to Laxey Beach, using the Christ Church Visitor Reception Centre as home base.
VLV has identified a bike hire company so that visitors can hire electric bikes and mountain bikes from the Visitor Reception Centre. Perhaps in the future, a heritage horse drawn carriage could take visitors up to Lady Isabella.
Visitors can call at the Christ Church Visitor Reception Centre next to the Laxey MER Station and then hop onto a 'Laxey Valley Heritage Trail Shuttle Bus' to be transported around the trail, split into three loops. Isabella, Agneash and Harbour, with 11 shuttle bus stops including King Orry’s Grave.
Laxey Valley Heritage Trail – further development:
Over the years, Manx National Heritage, the Laxey & Lonan Heritage Trust and special interest groups such as The Mines Research Group and The Working Men’s Institute have worked tirelessly to preserve the unique heritage of Laxey Valley.
VLV’s current initiatives will support and build on these achievements by helping to further develop the Laxey Valley Heritage Trail and open it up to fully accessible tourism, thus benefitting the entire local community and the Island’s economy as a whole.
Edmund Southworth, of Manx National Heritage; Ian Longworth of Transport Isle of Man and Julie Colquitt of Visit Isle of Man have been very supportive and helpful in developing these ideas.
Last November an Open Day was held in Christ Church to draw together the many stakeholders in this initiative and to share thoughts on how best to grow heritage tourism to its full potential.
Stakeholders include the local community, businesses, government officials, departments and Institutes and of course the tour companies always looking for a great day out for their customers.
As residents know, there is a wide variety of heritage buildings and artefacts spread out right around the Valley in varying states of disrepair. Once the Visitor Reception Centre and Laxey Valley Learning Centre are up and running, VLV will work with stakeholders to help bring these various attractions back to life by restoring them one by one so they become a ‘string of gems” spread along the Heritage Trail as well as showcasing the UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man and Manx Dark Skies programmes.
VLV will ensure that fundraising requests through the Friends of Laxey Valley are always kept to manageable levels.
Additional leisure activities such as signed hiking and biking trails from Snaefell summit right down to the foreshore and kayaking in the bay have also been proposed.
The overall aim is to offer visitors a full day of discovery and fun for all ages and mobilities whilst exploring the 'Seven Kingdoms in One Valley'.
With the backdrop of the magnificent scenery and natural environment, VLV aims to make the entire Laxey Valley a must-see activity for the many visitors, schools and residents of our beautiful Island.
Whether your interest is as a local business, local resident, tour guide or tour company, please contact VLV through Valerie Kinrade, Reverend Jo Dudley, Tim Kenyon or Richard Hubbard either directly or through Martin Royle and Pete Burgess in the Garff Commissioners office with any thoughts, ideas or suggestions you may have. We welcome all new ideas and offers of help for future development of the Laxey Valley Heritage Trail.
Val Kinrade (07624 472912) / Richard Hubbard (07770 848475) or by mail at Visit Laxey Valley, Ballaquine Farm, Laxey, Isle of Man, IM47QE and firstname.lastname@example.org