Laxey Miners

Content Warning: Some of the selected newspaper articles contain descriptions of injury and death that may be distressing.

History of the Laxey Mines

Mining had existed in some form on the Isle of Man since the Iron Age, with lead and silver mined at Foxdale, Bradda Head, Glen Chass and Maughold. The Laxey Mine produced zinc, lead and copper and was sunk in 1780, making it relatively young during the Industrial Revolution.

By the mid-1850s the Great Laxey Mine was the parent of many smaller mines, including Snaefell, North Laxey and Glen Roy. It was more than 670m (2,200ft) deep and had three main shafts; the Welsh Shaft, the Dumbell’s Shaft and the Engine Shaft.

The Great Laxey Mine Railway was built in 1823, and the famous Lady Isabella Wheel was built in 1854 to pump floodwater from the lower levels. At its height the mine employed over 600 men, producing 2400 tons of lead ore and half the zinc ore output of the UK.

“No wonder, thought I, at the lead miners being a race of thin sallow-complexioned men… The constant living in such an atmosphere would waste the best constitution that was ever created”.

'A Night In Great Laxey Mine', Isle of Man Times, 15 May 1875

Life in the Mines

Mining was a difficult and dangerous job. Miners spent long hours underground in a pitch black environment, lit only by their solitary candles.

Danger in the Mines

The mines were dangerous places to work. Accidents and tragedies were a fairly common feature of life in the Laxey mines, but none greater than the Snaefell Mine Disaster of 1897.

Below is a selection of reports on accidents that occurred in the Laxey Mines between 1836 and 1876. Read them to find out more about the dangers that the miners faced

“What’s this, men, in the shaft? I never knew anything like this before. I am going no further.”

Evan Christian, one of the survivors of the Snaefell Mining Disaster

The Snaefell Mining Disaster, 1897

On the morning of the 10 May 1897, a group of miners headed into the Snaefell Mine, little knowing the danger that lay below. While the mine was closed on Sunday, a pit prop, set alight by an unextinguished candle, smouldered and filled the shafts with deadly carbon monoxide.

As the miners began their descent into the mine, the poisonous gases began to overwhelm them. Some managed to struggle back to the surface, but others no longer had the strength to climb the ladders and perished underground. Of the 34 men who descended into the mine that day, only fourteen would survive.

Conditions were so dangerous that the rescue team came close to disaster several times as they struggled to find survivors and recover the bodies. It was a month before Robert Kelly was recovered from the deeper reaches of the mine.

Back to top