Manx Voice | Lady Isabella (Great Laxey Wheel)
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Lady Isabella (Great Laxey Wheel)

There are few images more iconic of the Isle of Man than that of Lady Isabella, the massive water wheel in Laxey. Erected in 1854, this is still the largest operational water wheel in world, a title which is unlikely to ever be challenged again. The Great Laxey wheel was mostly the product of Manx endeavour. Although the wheel’s axle was forged in Liverpool, it was designed by a Manx engineer (Robert Casement), the iron rims were made in Douglas and the timbers were shaped by Manx artisans. As you can imagine with something this size, it was assembled on the Island and commissioned in September 1854. This was cutting edge technology at the time and it’s awesome to see that it is still maintained and operational to this day.

The wheel was commissioned to pump water from the nearby Laxey mines when they were used to mine lead, copper, zinc and even silver in the past. When the mines closed in 1929, Mr Edwin Kneale, a Laxey builder stepped in to buy the wheel which was scheduled to be scrapped. He operated the wheel as a tourist attracting until the cost of maintaining the wheel meant it was no longer commercial viable to do this. It was then purchased by the Manx Government in 1965 when it was then restored to its former glory and handed over to the Manx National Heritage to operate as a National Heritage Site.

Here are some facts and figures about the Laxey Wheel:

  • The wheel has a diameter of 72 feet 6 inches (22.10 m).
  • The wheel has a circumference of almost 228ft (69.43 m).
  • The wheel is 6 feet (1.83m) wide.
  • The wheel as 48 wooden spokes.
  • The wheel has 168 buckets.
  • The wheel produces 200 horse power.
  • The Great Laxey Wheel took 4 years to build.
  • It’s peak operating capacity is 250 gallons per minute from a depth of 1500 feet.
  • The wheel was nicknamed Lady Isabella after the wife of a former Lieutenant Governor, Charles Hope.

Laxey Wheel [maptype=G_HYBRID_MAP;gpxview=all]

Lady Isabella is usually open to visitors between April and October, though it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s best to visit in good weather as there’s little shelter and climbing to the top of the wheel can be tricky in windy weather. There are a number of rambling trails through Glen Moar where visitors can learn about the mining history of the area and even stop for a picnic.

If you don’t have the opportunity to visit the wheel, you can find a panoramic view of the Laxey Wheel on the Manx National Heritage site.

(Laxey Wheel photo courtesy of ManxScenes)

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  • Georgia Corran
    Posted at 22:59h, 01 November

    Hello! I am doing a university project on the Laxey Wheel and was wondering if anybody had any interesting facts or stories? Would be very interested! Thanks

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