Museum on the Move – Laxey Wheel

The Great Laxey Wheel

The Laxey Wheel is arguably the Isle of Man’s most iconic landmark it measures 72ft and 6 inches in diameter with 96 steps to the top!  The wheel which was christened the Lady Isabella, is the largest working waterwheel in the world. The grand opening of the Lady Isabella was on 27 September 1854 with thousands flocking to see the wheel turn for the first time.

Did you know that this extraordinary example of Victorian engineering has brought tourists flocking to Laxey for over 150 years?

Why it was needed

The Great Laxey Wheel was designed by local engineer Robert Casement to pump the water out of the mines.  In the 1780s zinc and lead ore was discovered in the Laxey valley and attempts to mine these valuable minerals began. For many decades, however, flooding was a significant problem for those working underground. The Great Laxey Wheel was invented and constructed to solve this problem. It was one of a number of water wheels pumping out water from the Great Laxey Mine, but this was the largest and most impressive.

The Great Laxey Wheel was a water powered wheel. The power generated by the wheel turning was used to drive a set of pumps which would bring water that had flooded the lower levels of the mine up to the Main Adit. Once the water had reached the Main Adit it would drain out to the Laxey River and out to sea.

Powering the Great Wheel

The wheel was powered by rain water from the Laxey hillside, which was delivered by a network of lades and cisterns to the Great Laxey Wheel itself. This water entered from the top of the wheel tower into the 168 buckets which hung around the circumference of the wheel.

Changing Forces

The rotational power generated by the movement of the wheel drove a huge rod, which was connected to a T-rocker at the top of the mine’s Engine shaft.

The T-rocker then changed the horizontal movement of the rod to the vertical movement of the pump rod in the mine shaft.

This transfer of force is what made the Laxey Wheel so effective in pumping the water from the shaft.

Watch the video below to see how the ‘T’ Rocker pumps water from the Mine.

The Miners

The Laxey valley was rich in mineral deposits and huge profits could be made. This is what the miners were seeking –  Galena – lead ore, along with zinc ore. Lead and zinc were the all-purpose metal of the Victorian age – and supplies were in huge demand. For a time mining was extremely profitable on the Isle of Man and many men, women and children were employed working in this industry, but it was dangerous work.

Miners worked two shifts – 6am-2pm and 2pm-10pm. At the start of each shift the miners would face the long, slow descent to the working levels via a series of ladders. Between 1831 and 1926, there were 36 deaths in the mines and 55 serious accidents – most commonly caused by gunpowder explosions; falling down shafts; being hit with falling rocks; or drowning.

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