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Laxey began as a small close knit fishing community around the mouth of the Laxey River. There was a herring smoke house and it was also important for washing and bleaching linen cloth used in the manufacture of sails.

Small scale mining began in the valley above the village. By the C19th, most of the male population worked in the mines. The women and young boys worked on the washing floors. Life was hard and wages were low. Miners had to pay for explosives and other supplies. There was no welfare state and if miners were badly hurt and unable to work or too old to work, they were reliant on Friendly Societies to support them.

As the mines grew, the harbour at the mouth of the river was improved by two breakwaters and a warehouse was built on the quayside.



A new road was built with a bridge was built across the river. Washing floors extended down the valley with a tramway carrying the lead ore to the harbour.


The population of Laxey grew rapidly in the 1840s with the growth of the Laxey Mines. The nearest church was three miles away in Lonan. Land was given by George William Dumbell, chairman of the Laxey Mining Company to build a new church and a building fund was launched. The bishop and archdeacon contributed but most of the money came from the mining company.

Christ Church was consecrated in 1856 and cost £950 to build. Work in the mines was stopped for the day so miners could attend the consecration service. The church did not have a burial ground as bodies continued to be interred at Lonan Parish Church.


It is a very simple church set among the trees near the Manx Electric railway Station. It now houses the Laxey Valley Welcome Centre and has an exhibition about the area and lead mining.


As the settlement grew, miners houses were built along Miner’s road which lead from above the washing floors to the mines.

Laxey Flour Mills opened in 1860 followed by a Woollen Mill in 1881 bringing alternative employment to the area. Both are still working. The Ballacregga Corn Mill opened further up the valley. It was sold in 1945 and is now a cafe but still retains its waterwheel.


Victorian visitors began to arrive at the Isle of Man and with the opening of the Manx Electric Railway in 1894 and the Snaefell Mountain Railway the following year.

Laxey trams .jpg


Numbers visiting Laxey grew rapidly. Visitors paid to climb the wheel. Enterprising families in Dumbell’s Terrace along Miners Road soon opened their homes to sell refreshments and the row of houses soon became named ‘Ham and Eggs Terrace’.


At the start of the terrace is the memorial statue honouring those who worked in the Great Laxey Mine. Carvings around the base depict the train used to carry miners into the mine, the 'man engine' used to carry men to and from the work face and a mining scene.





Laxey Glen Gardens was opened by an enterprising business man to cater for the increasing number of visitors. There was a mass planting of mass programme of tree planting with secluded walks, bowers and rustic seats. Visitors were charged 3d to enter and there was croquet, lawn tennis and bowling greens as well as a boating lake and dance floor. There were open air concerts and night dances lit by gas lamps. A large family home was built at entrance of the glen which had twelve bedrooms for paying guests. This is now a residential care home for the elderly.

The boating lake has now been filled in and is now a grassy paddock with a small playground. There are attractive flower gardens at the start of the glen by the Laxey Glen Pavilion.


The beach is pebble and Laxey never became a place to stay and most people were day visitors. It was (and still is) also quite a long walk from the Manx Electric Station. The Promenade was built in 1929 as part of a winter work scheme for former miners. It lacks the grand hotels of Douglas and Port Erin. Later development was up the hillside.


On Ballaragh Road in Minorca, a ‘suburb’ of upper Laxey, are two 5000 year old chambered cairns, King Orry's Graves, named after an almost legendary character revered by the Manx as their greatest king and founder of Mann.



The Laxey Heritage Trail is an excellent guide to Laxey village .

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The Great Laxey Mine - some history and background

In the C19th, Laxey was the site of one of the largest and most important lead mines in the UK with the site extending up the Glen Mooar Valley. The massive waterwheel and the ruins of the many buildings are a reminder of its importance. Primarily mined for its lead ore, the mine also produced significant quantities of zinc, silver and copper.quantities

Small scale mining for lead began in Laxey in the 1780s. Lead was increasingly needed for water pipes and roofing. New shafts were opened and the mines extended further and deeper into the ground.

There were always problems with water in the mines and there were several small waterwheels in the valley used to pump out water. In 1836, there was a massive thunderstorm that flooded the mine workings and drowned five men. It took six months to pump out the water and reopen the mine.

George William Dumbell, who was a major shareholder and chairman of the Great Laxey Mining Company, called a directors’ meeting to find a solution to the flooding problem. The answer was a huge and powerful waterwheel. This could be used to drive a set of pumps in the mine shafts that would bring up water and prevent flooding of the lower levels of the mine.

Dumbell wanted the wheel to be a symbol to everyone in the village and the island of the importance of the mine, which was by then employing 600 men. It was painted in bright red, black and white and was clearly seen all over the valley.


Thousands of people turned out for the formal opening of the wheel in 1854. It was named after the wife of the then Lieutenant General, Charles Hope. At 72’6” diameter, it is still the largest working waterwheel in the world.

A series of lades was built to collect water from the surrounding hillsides which was then collected in a cistern. An underground pipe took the water to the base of the wheel tower. As the cistern was higher than the top of the wheel, water was pushed to the top by gravity.

The ore was carried by tramway to the washing floors lower down the valley.


As output increased, the mine took delivery of two small steam engines, Ant and Bee, that could pull six or seven full trucks of ore. The ore was crushed and washed before being sent by boat to the UK for smelting. There is no coal on the island and it would have been too expensive to import it for smelting.

A compressor house was built in 1880 which allowed compressed air to be used in the mines for drilling. A water powered machine referred to as a ‘man engine’ was built in the Welsh shaft. Before then men had to climb up and down a series of wooden ladders at the beginning and end of their shift. Platforms enabled miners to step on and off at the different levels and this reduced the time taken to reach the workings or surface by half.

The 1880s were a difficult time for the mine with increasing unrest with miners complaining that their wage was not enough. Markets were being flooded by cheap foreign imports of lead and share prices were falling. The mine struggled on to the start of the First World War. Although lead was in great demand, links to the rest of the UK were erratic and it was difficult to find vessels to ship out the ore. Many miners had joined up. In 1917, the miners went on strike for better pay. By April all work at the mine had stopped and the British Government stepped in to fund an increase for the miners.

The workforce returned at the end of the war, but the mine had closed again by 1920, causing mass unemployment. In 1922, the company was bought by a local business man in an effort to keep the village alive. He spent three months pumping water out of the mine and told the workers their future and the success of the mine was in their hands. The day to day running of the mine was left in the hands of his son who was a qualified mining engineer.

In 1922 a fire destroyed the crushing mill and badly damaged the washing floors. The mine closed for four months in 1926 during a severe drought. Further bad luck followed in 1928 when torrential rainstorms washed away two bridges in the valley and flooded the mine. Surveys in 1930 indicated the ore deposits were exhausted and, by 1932, the mine was abandoned and entrances sealed.

In 1937, a local builder took out a 15 year lease on the Lady Isabella Wheel to save it from demolition. He later bought it before selling it to the Manx Government in 1965.

The Wheel has been restored to its Victorian splendour. The washing floors are now owned by Laxey Commissioners and the area has been cleared and landscaped to form Laxey Gardens. A small waterwheel, The Lady Evelyn, which had worked at the Snaefell mine further up the valley, has been restored and erected in a wheel pit in the washing floor. Part of the original Laxey Mines Railway which carried ore from the mines to the washing floors has been reopened with two replica steam locos. The area in Glen Mooar from the Lady Isabella to the Compression House has been bought and is now part of an industrial trail in the care of Manx National Heritage.


The Great Laxey Mine - Lady Isabella Wheel

Named after the wife of the then Lieutenant General, the beautifully restored waterwheel was built in 1854 to pump water from the Great Laxey Mines industrial complex. It was capable of pumping 250 gallons of water a minute from a depth of 200 fathoms (1200’).

The wheel was painted bright red, black and white and, with its three Legs of Mann, can be seen from all over the valley.


it is possible to climb to the top of the wheel for views of Laxey.


Each of the 168 slats round the perimeter of the wheel holds 24 gallons of water and could generate around 200 horse power.


A series of lades was built to collect water from the surrounding hillsides and was collected in a cistern.


A closed underground pipe took the water to the base of the wheel tower.


As the cistern was higher than the top of the wheel, water was pushed to the top by gravity. The water runs underneath the viewing platform into the slats which turn the wheel.


A wooden crank turns the rotary movement into a horizontal movement, driving the pump rod in the shaft.



It is attached to a very long rod which runs along the rod viaduct to the Engine shaft, which was the main shaft used to pump water out of the mine.



The other end is attached to a counterweight designed to offset the weight of the water lifted by the wheel.


A T rocker at the Engine Shaft is connected to the pump rod in the Engine Shaft and converts the horizontal movement to a vertical movement.


The engine shaft contained five plunger pumps at different depths. On the downward stroke, these forced water through a one way valve into the main pipe. On the upward stroke, the valves shut pushing water up the pipe. Once it reached the main adit, the water then drained away into the Laxey River.

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The Great Laxey Mines - Mines trail

The land around Glen Mooar is in the care of Manx National Heritage and there is a trail which takes visitors around the ruins of the lead mining industry. This map from the Laxey Mines Research Group website shows a plan of the site.

Mines map.jpg

A series of paths lead up both sides of the valley. They can be steep in places, with a lot of steps and rough underfoot. Information boards give a good idea of what the valley was like when the mines were working.


The Great Laxey Mine consisted of three shafts, the Engine Shaft (1820), The Welsh Shaft (1840) and the Dumbell Shaft (late 1850s). The first two are visited on the trail along with the remains of the compressor house.


Following the right bank of the stream, a well made path leads to the old adit, located near a waterfall. The lead ore was close to the surface here and, in 1790, an adit was driven into the hillside for about 160 yards to reach the ore.


The first section has been opened up and visitors can don a hard hat and venture into the adit.



Paths continue up the valley below the rod viaduct from the Lady Isabella wheel to where the pump rod drains the Engine Shaft.


A short distance further up the valley is the remains of the engine house, with the machine house on the hillside above it. Each shaft needed its own winding house to lift the mined ore to the surface as well as pumping water out of the mine.


The engine house was built first and housed the machine for the Engine Shaft, which was the first to be dug. As well as giving access to ore bearing rocks it was also contained the main pumping system for the mine.


This was powered by a waterwheel, with the water being carried down a long pipe from a cistern on the hillside above. Later, a steam powered beam engine replaced the waterwheel.



The beam engine was only used for a few years before being replaced by a much more powerful water turbine, housed in the specially built machine house. This was the main source of power for the winding gear of both the engine and Welsh shafts, although in times of drought, the beam engine in the engine house could still be used as a backup.




The remains of the Welsh Shaft is a bit further up the valley and part of the pipework and cut off valve supplying water for the man engine can be seen.


Men originally had to climb up and down a series of wooden ladders at the beginning and end of their shift, with just a candle attached to their hat for light. At 1800 feet this could add well over an hour at either end of the shift. The winding cage cut this to a few minutes.

A simple form of lift, the 'man engine', was designed to take men up and down the Welsh shaft. As this shaft sloped at an angle 18˚ from the vertical, ladders could not be replaced by a winding cage. Instead, the mine owners invested in a water powered machine referred to as a ‘man engine.’ A heavy wooden rod ran down the depth of the mine shaft moving on roller wheels fixed to the shaft walls Wooden standing platforms were attached to the rod allowing miners to step on and off at the different levels. This reduced the time needed to reach the work face or surface by half.


This picture below comes from the Laxey Mines Research Group website.

Man engine.jpg

The trail continues up the valley to the remains of the compressor house. This was damaged by a landslip in 2018 and can only be viewed at a distance.


It housed the four compressed air drills bought in 1877 to speed up the extraction of ore and was one of the first uses of compressed air for this in the UK, providing a reliable source of compressed air with a water turbine operating the compressors. The compressed air was stored in a ‘receiver tank’ to the north of the building with pipes leading from it down the valley to the Welsh Shaft or up the valley to the Dumbell’s shaft.

Crossing over the stream, the trail drops back down the valley past the cistern supplying water to the Lady Isabella and the wheel itself.

The Great Laxey Mine - the washing floors

Lead ore was put in wagons and taken by steam train to the washing floors further down the Laxey valley. It was tipped down stone chutes into large bunkers.


The ore was broken by hand and tipped onto a large revolving table called the ‘chat’. Waste stone was removed by hand into wagons and pushed along a tramway on the river bank to be tipped on land opposite Dumbell Terrace, known as the Deads. It was a very conspicuous feature of the valley until some of it was used to widen the northern end of Douglas Promenade and to construct the airfield at Jurby.

After further mechanical crushing, the ore was tipped into jiggers which were large sieves. These were filled with water and shaken, causing the ore and waste stone to separate into layers.

The ore was then further refined in buddles which were circular pits. The ore was sprayed with water and stirred with a revolving arm to separate the ore. The waste water was finally put into ’slime pits’ where the very fine particles of ore settled and could be removed when the pits were emptied.

Water power was used to work the machinery and a series of waterwheels were built down the valley to reuse the water as often as possible.

With the rapid expansion of the mines in the 1860s, the washing floors were extended further down the valley to where the sheltered housing is now.

The washed ore was taken by a horse drawn tramway to the harbour and shipped to the UK for smelting as there wass no coal on the island and it was cheaper to export the ore for smelting than bring coal in.

When the mines closed, the washing floors were left derelict. The area has been cleared and landscaped to form Laxey Gardens and is now used as a wedding venue. In 2006, a waterwheel from the Snaefell mine further up the valley was installed in a wheel pit in the washing floors.


There is a lot more information about mining in the Isle of Man here.

Great Laxey Mines Railway

A tramway was built in 1823 to carry the ore from the Great Laxey Mines to the washing floors. Wagons were originally pushed by hand but, as output increased, horses were used.


As the mine expanded, ponies were finding it increasingly difficult to pull all the wagons of ore. In 1877, the company bought two small steam locomotives, Ant and Bee, which could run on the 19” track and were capable of pulling six or seven fully loaded wagons of ore. The crew consisted of a driver and lad whose duties included shunting, coupling and uncoupling the wagons and tipping.

When the mines finally closed in 1928, the two engines were cut up and sold for scrap.

In 1999, the Laxey and Lonan Heritage Trust planned a replica engine shed with wagons and information boards. A generous donation left in a will enabled two replica engines to be built and the line restored from the washing floors to near the main adit. (From here, it is a ten minute walk to the entrance to the Manx Heritage site. )


The Great Laxey Mines Railway reopened in 2004 with two replica steam engines which carry visitors under the A2 (described as the only railway tunnel on the island) up the valley to a small halt near the Great Laxey Mines adit. Two specially designed carriages carry passengers along the short stretch of track.


The railway also own a small battery operated industrial engine built in 1973, which worked in a mine in Cornwall. It is appropriately named Wasp.


A four wheel tipping truck forms part of the static display at Valley Gardens Station, along with other pieces of old equipment.



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