Laxey Wheel

A note from the Director of Manx National Heritage

I hope that many of you will have seen the recent press release about the Laxey Wheel in which we announced a funding package which has been agreed with the Isle of Man Government. The Government is making money available from its contingency funds and Trustees are selling a property which was bequeathed to them some years ago in order to match the Government contribution. Covid has placed the island in a difficult economic position and Trustees agreed that they had to use their reserves on this occasion.

The Laxey Wheel is a complex piece of equipment and is inspected regularly. Every winter it gets an overhaul by local engineers who focus on the bearings and other moving parts. Every so often we undertake major inspections and repairs as and when necessary. The Wheel needs to be repainted on a regular cycle – particularly because so much of it is made from wood and almost constantly wet from the very nature of how the waterwheel works. We estimate that this repainting needs repeating every seven years or so and it was last completed in 2015.

The challenge we have had in the last year is that two unconnected pieces of the large timber components of the mechanism have failed. These sections are under constant load all the time the wheel is turning and are connected together by large cast iron bolts and fixings. Timber is of course a natural product and it flexes slightly under the stress and strains. What seems to have happened is that water has gradually penetrated into the timber where the iron is fixed over the 40 years or so it has been in place. This enables rot to develop deep inside the timber where it is not visible to our inspectors.

We were aware that this was likely to happen at some point and we have been keeping a closer eye on the wheel for some time but we could not forecast where and when it might be. In the event one of the pieces that failed was right at the end of the rod duct and in the most inaccessible place possible.

The funding package agreed allows us to tackle the repairs to the major timbers but also bring forward the planned painting and routine maintenance. This latter work requires extensive scaffolding and restricted public access. We realised that it would be incredibly disruptive to visitors to close the site one year to do repairs only to close it again the following year for the repainting.

We have started work now on bringing together the specialist team who will work on the design and planning of the work. We always have a challenge with working on the wheel in that it is outdoors and in a very exposed part of the Laxey Valley. There are some times in the year that high winds stop us working and painting in particular will have to wait until the weather is suitable. At the moment we are not promising an exact date for completion but we dearly want to see the “Lady Isabella” proudly turning again as soon as we can next Spring.

Edmund Southworth

Director, Manx National Heritage