Everyone knows about the “Lady Isabella Wheel”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/man/north/laxey/mine_two/index.html (to be honest, you can’t miss it) and everyone flocks to visit. This was the site of one of the most important lead mines in the C19th and lead was taken by rail to the washing floors a short distance away.
The tramway was very much the forgotten history of the lead mines until it was “restored”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/man/transport/laxeymines/index.html by an enthusiastic group of volunteers who have rebuilt a short length of track to the site of the adit of the Great Laxey Mine Company, as well as replicas of two of the original steam locos used to carry the lead.
The tramway was built in 1823 to carry the ore 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.
The Great Laxey Mines Railway reopened in 2004 with two replica steam engines which carry visitors in specially designed carriages along a short stretch of track and 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. 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.
The railway is entirely run by enthusiastic volunteers and runs every Saturday from the end of March to the end of September. There is a small shop at the station.
It is a short ride in a specially constructed ‘cage’ (clearances are tight through what is described as the only railway tunnel on the Isle of Man). To be honest, it isn’t very long and doesn’t go very far but is worth visiting (and supporting) because of its part in the industrial archaeology of the Isle of Man. At the far end there are information boards about the Great Laxey Mine Adit and a Copper Trial.
It can also be used to cut down walking distance to Laxey Wheel!
There is more information about mining in Laxey “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/man/north/laxey/index.html