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The Water Wheel Album: Page Four

The Laxey Water Wheel

A Brief History of Laxey

Laxey is a widespread village on the eastern side of the Island. Its name is derived from the Norse word "Laxa" or salmon river, as apparently in early times great catches of salmon were taken from the river there.

Today Laxey is largely a residential area, but during the last century it became a thriving mining village. Today, very little evidence of this is to be seen, the mines have long since closed down, but fortunately there is still preserved in all its glory the famous Laxey Wheel, and is the largest metal water wheel in the world.

The Laxey Wheel, or Lady Isabella as it is known, was constructed in 1854 by John Casement, a native of Laxey and a brilliant engineer. It was designed by him to pump the surplus water from the mines and, by cleverly using the natural fall of the mountain streams as a power source, he produced this widely acclaimed remarkable engineering feat.

The Laxey mines, which included Zinc, Copper and Silver as well as Lead ore, were worked for many years, and in the later half of the nineteenth century were very prosperous. Ore to the value of £2,068,000 being produced between 1831 and 1884. They extended to a depth of around 1800 feet.

Lady Isabella Water Wheel

The wheel has a circumference of 227 feet, a diameter of 72 1/2 feet and a breadth of 6 feet and was capable of raising 250 gallons per minute from a depth of 1200 feet. The horizontal pumping rods, supported on wheels running on rails, are carried from the wheel to the mine shaft on a viaduct - a distance of 200 yards. This magnificent piece of engineering is still in perfect condition and attracts thousands of people each year, who come to see it working.

Set high on the hillside towards the hamlet of Agneash and overlooking Laxey Village is the Great Laxey Wheel. This was built in 1854 to pump water from the workings of the Great Laxey Mining Company. Mining was of considerable importance to the economy of Laxey and the Great Laxey Mine was one of the major producers of lead and zinc in the British Isles.

The Laxey water wheel was designed by the Manx engineer Robert Casement. The wheel's axle was forged by the Mersey Iron Works of Liverpool but the cast iron rims were made on the Island by Gelling's Foundry at Douglas. The timbers of the wheel were shaped by Manx artisans and the whole structure was assembled here on the Island.

The official opening of this huge wheel took place in September 1854 and it was set in motion by the Honorable Charles Hope, the Lieutenant Governor of the Island. The wheel was named "Lady Isabella" in honor of the Governor's wife. The wheel has a diameter of 72 feet 6 inches, (over 22 meters), and a width of 6 feet. It is capable of pumping 250 gallons of water per minute from a depth of almost 1,500 feet. The mine shaft from which the water was pumped was sited about 450 yards from the great wheel. The power from the wheel was transmitted to the pumping mechanism by a series of rods supported by and running along an imposing masonry viaduct.

In 1929 when mining came to an end, the Lady Isabella was acquired by Mr. Edwin Kneale of Laxey and it continued as a great tourist attraction. The wheel was as much associated with the Isle of Man as were the cats without tails and the world famous succulent kippers. In 1965 the Manx government bought the water wheel and the restoration work which followed, preserved it for future generations. Since 1989 it has been under the control of Manx National Heritage.

The "Lady Isabella" is claimed to be the largest water wheel in Europe: and the largest metal water wheel in the world.

In the meantime, after over a century and a half, and in the words of a popular, modern song -"The Laxey Wheel keeps turning, turning, turning. In Lady Isabella's memory..."

The Gigantic Water Wheel

The stupendous Water-wheel, was added to the works of the Laxey Glen Mines, in the Isle of Man . They produced about 90 tons of silver-lead ore per mouth, yielding 50 ounces of silver to the ton; and also about 260 tons of zinc ores monthly. The works include eight large water-wheels, and one steam-engine; and the company are about to erect three additional water-wheels: one 16 feet in diameter, and two 50 feet. The starting of the gigantic water wheel is the "largest wheel in Europe."

The water wheel forms a conspicuous object in the picturesque glen of Laxey. On the end of which the Manx Arms figure in gigantic proportions; several other wheels and engine-houses were still higher up the glen of the Manx mountains.

The absence of any aqueduct to the top, but behind the wheel is a long row of white arches are certainly seen approaching it, these are found merely to bear the long connecting rod which moves back and. and forwards applying the power of the wheel to work the pump at the mine shaft, which is distant some two hundred yards from the Wheel. A large reservoir filled by a small stream of water and from this reservoir an iron tube about two feet in diameter passes under the surface to the foot of the Wheel, whence it rises perpendicularly In the center of a slender white tower to the level of the reservoir, then passes under the platform over the water wheel. The water wheel is what Is termed a "breast-shot," and the water does not pass right over the top as an over-shot." Today this "back-shot" water wheel is termed a "pitch-back." The back of the water wheel is covered with an iron shroud to prevent the wind from blowing the water out of the buckets. The axle of the wheel rests on the top of a substantial oblong erection in which the lower half revolves which is an enormous stone building. The lower part being pierced by arched openings, which give it a light appearance, and allow the Wheel to be seen.

The Wheel is 72 feet 6 inches in diameter, and 6 feet broad clear in the water way. The burtben is moved from the center, giving 10 feet stroke at the crank, and 8 feet in the engine shaft. The axle of the Wheel, from the Mersey Iron Works, is made of malleable or hammered Iron 17 feet long and 21 inches diameter, and weighing 10 tone. The arms are of wood with cast-iron rim, supplied by Gelling's Foundry, Douglas;. The line of rods extending from the wheel to the top of the pit is 600 feet in length. They are made of solid oak, strapped with plates of wrought Iron. The mine is 200 fathoms deep, which depth is being constantly increased. It was this that rendered so large a wheel necessary to keep the mines clear of water. The Wheel pumped 250 gallons of water per minute from a depth of 200 fathoms.

The Laxey Wheel and crank arm in foreground.

Twenty Pound Note 1983, Isle of Man Government.

Sources of text from the various Laxey Water Wheel site on the internet.

This page is presented by Theodore R. Hazen & Pond Lily Mill Restorations

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