The Mine Tramway
The Great Laxey Mine was formed on a mineral deposit known as a lode which runs in a north-south direction beneath the Glen Mooar Valley, a tributary of the main Laxey Valley. The workings eventually extended to a depth of 2200 feet underground. As a comparison, the height of Snaefell, the Islands only mountain, is 2036 feet.
The main shafts were the Engine Shaft which contained the pumps connected to the Lady Isabella waterwheel; the Welsh Shaft which contained the Man Engine, a water powered lift installed in 1881 use to lower and raise the miners into and out of the mine, and the Dumbell's shaft, which was the deepest at the mine.
Underground a labyrinth of workings and levels extended outwards from the shafts along the mineral vein. The most important level was known as the Adit which entered the hillside below the Laxey Wheel and extended for nearly 1½ miles, connecting in turn with each of the main shafts. A tramway, dating to 1823, ran the entire length of the Adit and was used to carry the mined ores out of the mine.
At first, a single wagon was pushed by hand but in 1827 a pony was purchased. Over the years, as the Adit and tramway were extended, additional wagons and ponies were added. By the 1870's huge quantities of ore were being mined. In the six months prior to August 1873, 27,528 wagons of ore were brought out of the mine on the tramway, equivalent to 177 a day. This meant that each of the nine horses now used on the tramway brought nearly 20 loaded wagons of ore out of the mine each day. Shortly afterwards, it was decided to replace the horses with steam locomotives.
One potential problem was that the smoke from steam engines would fill the mine. In order to find out if this would happen in practice, bonfires were lit in the Adit level and kept burning for several days. The results were acceptable (at least by the standards of the time!) and two small steam locomotives were ordered. Named Ant and Bee, they were constructed to the unusual gauge of 19 inches by Stephen Lewin, of Poole, Dorset and were delivered to the mine in April, 1877. By 1905, following continual intensive use, they both were worn out. Quotations for replacements were obtained from several manufacturers including Kerr Stuart and W G Bagnall Ltd. However, the cost proved to be prohibitive and both engines were refurbished and fitted with new boilers supplied by W G Bagnall Ltd.
Following closure of the mine in 1929, Ant and Bee were locked away in the engine shed for several years before being cut up for scrap in 1935. The surface section of the tramway was ripped up although the rails and sleepers still remain in situ underground along the length of the Adit.