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Laxey Wheel - ‘better than the London Eye’! 29 June 2009

Laxey WheelThe Great Laxey Wheel received a visit from the BBC earlier this month, to film for the first episode of the 2010 series of ‘Coast’, which begins in the Isle of Man and will feature the Laxey Mines and the Island’s most historic waterwheel.

Well known presenter, Neil Oliver, and his five strong film crew were fascinated by the great waterwheel, known as ‘Lady Isabella’ after the wife of a former governor, and which is now believed to be the largest working waterwheel in the world.

Matthew Richardson, Curator for Social History for Manx National Heritage said:

“The crew from Coast undertook extensive filming at the Laxey Wheel and shortly before our first visitors arrived, Neil Oliver was invited to assist with starting the historic waterwheel turning for the day. Neil got a little wet in the process, and was surprised by the volume of water which cascades from the wheel when in motion!”

Designed by the Victorian engineer, Robert Casement, the Laxey Wheel was built in 1854 to pump water from the Great Laxey lead mines. The impressive 22m (72.5 feet) diameter structure found immediate popularity with visitors and locals alike and has remained one of the Island’s most dramatic tourist attractions for over 150 years. The ‘Lady Isabella’ survived largely through the efforts of one man, Laxey builder Edwin Kneale, who acquired the wheel to save it from being scrapped. Kneale operated the wheel as a tourist attraction until its purchase by the Manx Government in 1965, when a programme of complete restoration began in order to return the great wheel to its former glory. Subsequent acquisition of a neighbouring area of Glen Mooar made possible the creation of the Laxey Mines Trail.

After careful planning between Peter Geddes from the Laxey Mines Research Group, Manx National Heritage and the Department of Trade and Industry, Neil Oliver and the BBC team also had the chance to explore the Welsh Shaft, an area of the Laxey Mine complex not usually open to the public.

The Welsh Shaft was created in 1840 as the Laxey mine complex extended northwards. By 1870 it was over 1800 feet (540m) deep. In 1881, a ‘Man Engine’ was installed in the Welsh Shaft. This provided a means of ascending and descending the mine using a system of moving platforms, in order to reduce the time the miners spent on ladders. Like the ‘Lady Isabella’, this remarkable device was entirely water driven.

Matthew continued:

“The team from Coast were captivated by the Laxey Wheel and the story of the Laxey miners who lived and worked in its shadow. Before leaving the Wheel to continue filming at Laxey Harbour, Neil Oliver wrote a note in the visitor book saying ‘Fantastic – better than the London Eye!’"

Manx National Heritage encourages all Island residents and visitors to pay a visit to the Great Laxey Wheel, and experience this unique Manx landmark - the Island’s greatest piece of industrial archaeology - at first hand.

The Great Laxey Wheel is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission costs only £3.50 for adults and £1.80 for children and visitors to the wheel contribute to keeping the Great Laxey Wheel turning for future generations to enjoy.

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