The Isle of Man has a rich history in mining. There is indication of mining going back 3000 years and much evidence of much more recent activity.
During the 18th and 19th Centuries, mining for lead, zinc and silver became an industrial concern and minerals mined from the Island accounted for a significant proportion of the whole British Isles production.
Travelling around the Island, legacy features of mine workings can readily be seen with particular concentrations of evidence in the Laxey and Foxdale areas. Such sights may be mine chimneys; other associated surface buildings or areas of “deads”, where the land has been left covered in old mine spoil, and must have changed very little since the mines were closed.
The Island’s most famous and recognisable mining feature is the Great Laxey Wheel, christened the Lady Isabella. The wheel’s purpose was to provide pumping power to dewater the Great Laxey Mine to enable miners to work in the mine’s great depths which would be otherwise flooded by subterranean waters. Powered by waters from the River Mooar, Lady Isabella is a fine example of a Victorian renewable energy project.
While the Lady Isabella has wide recognition and close association with Laxey and the Island generally, it is less well known that the village has second wheel.
Snaefell Mine lie at the top of the Snaefell valley, four kilometres north west of Laxey in the shadow of the Mountain. In 1865 the Snaefell Mining Company commissioned the building of a 50-feet diameter water wheel to keep the mine dry. The wheel was manufactured in Wales before shipping to the Island and being installed at the mine.
By 1910 the mine and its wheel had become redundant and the wheel was sold to a Cornish mining concern where it was used until 1950. Thereafter, it passed various industrial preservation societies but was eventually left lying in its component form on a Welsh hillside.
Pete Geddes, of the Laxey Mines Research Group (LMRG) learned of the Wheel’s fate and resolved to bring it home and restore it to its former glory. The LMRG worked with the assistance of many businesses, organisations and individuals to transport restore and install the Wheel over a three year period.
The wheel is located in the middle of Laxey village where the washing floors for the Great Laxey Mine once were. The wheel is powered by river water, and while it has no functional purpose in its current situ, stands as a memorial to the Island’s industrial heritage and the miners of yesteryear who worked in extremely hard conditions to develop and work the mines which enabled the Island’s natural resources to be used to contribute to the development of the built and designed world.
The wheel’s restoration and installation was completed in 2006. At its official opening, the Wheel was named Lady Evelyn, in recognition of the support given to the LMRG by Evelyn Jones.