We spoke to the chairman of the Laxey and Lonan Heritage Trust, Andrew Scarffe.
Following the success of the Isle of Man Year of Sport in 1985, 1986 was promoted to Heritage Year.
At this time, considerable work was underway at the Laxey Wheel to create a mining trail in the adjacent Glen Mooar Valley, reconnect the T Rocker and reopen a small section of the underground workings to the public. The intention was for visitors to stay longer at the Laxey Wheel and gain a better understanding of the history of the mine.
Encouraged both by the success of this work and of the Heritage Year, House of Keys and Garff MHK Chairman Sir Charles Kerruish realized that the same principle could be applied across the town.
Nowhere else on the island can one boast such a rich industrial and mining heritage, as well as unique vintage railways, all against the backdrop of unparalleled natural landscapes.
Sir Charles concluded that if the local heritage was properly promoted, the number of visitors to Laxey could be increased and they would be encouraged to stay longer in the village. He thought this would be best achieved by forming a dedicated local heritage trust.
The first meeting of the Laxey Heritage Trust was held on 5 March 1987, its stated aim being to “promote knowledge relating to the history of Laxey and the mining industry in general on the Isle of Man and in particular the great mine of Laxey in the parish of Lonan’.
Joining Sir Charles as first trustees were Minister for Tourism Allan Bell MHK, Lonan Parish Captain Jim Quilleash and representatives of Laxey Village Commissioners and Lonan Parish Commissioners.
Sir Charles was appointed as the first chairman and the newly formed trust was registered as a charity.
The trustees quickly got to work. The former fire station on Mines Road has been transformed into an information center and gift shop.
Heritage trails around the village were created, guided walks were organized and a publicity bus promoting Laxey hit the roads.
A deal was struck with the Manx Electric Railway to convert a former goods yard building into a blacksmith’s shop, and a visiting farrier gave demonstrations each weekend.
A woodcarver’s workshop was created in part of the adjacent goods shed and an exhibition of agricultural machinery was created in the courtyard.
On Easter Monday 1988 the very first Great Laxey Duck Race was staged.
This event has taken place every year since (except during the recent Covid lockdown) and remains a major fundraiser for the Trust.
The duck race has recently been revitalized and this year will be held on August 21.
In 1990 a wooden statue of a Laxey miner was unveiled in Mines Road by Lieutenant Governor Sir Laurence New.
Despite regular maintenance, the statue unfortunately deteriorated and was removed in 2008.
It was replaced in 2015 with a magnificent statue, sculpted by Onky Wijana of Indonesia, from a five-tonne block of blue limestone from Carlow, the cost being funded by a donation from the estate of a former resident of Laxey.
In July 1990 Sir Charles Kerruish was appointed chairman of the Tynwald and resigned as Garff MHK and thus as chairman of the trust.
Dr. Edgar Mann was named president in his place and served until 1995, when Steve Rodan was elected MHK for Garff.
One of Mr Rodan’s first tasks as Chairman was to transform the Trust into the Laxey and Lonan Heritage Trust and to open up membership to the general public to support the work of the trustees.
In the late 1990s, the Isle of Man government established Mann 2000 which invited submissions of ideas to celebrate the new millennium.
The Trust decided to recreate a section of the old mine tramway at Valley Gardens consisting of a replica engine shed, tracks and carriages.
The tram originally transported ore from the Great Laxey mine using two tiny steam locomotives Ant and Bee. Unfortunately, everything had been scrapped when the mine closed.
Very quickly, the concept of a cameo turned into a working railway. Large donations from the estate of the late Lieutenant-Colonel R Glen funded replicas of the original locomotives.
The Great Laxey Mine Railway was officially opened in September 2004 during a weekend of celebrations, largely organized by the Trust, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Laxey Wheel.
Since then, a small team of volunteers have extended the track and created a new station at Valley Gardens. A car shed was built for the two tiny railway carriages.
The mine railway runs every Saturday from Easter to September and is operated and maintained entirely by volunteers.
Every October, the trains and the railway tunnel are specially decorated for the annual Hop Tu Naa Ghost Trains, which is the main fundraising event for the railway.
Railway volunteers are currently restoring the old and historic MER goods shed in Laxey, which serves as the base for the small group carrying out the restoration work on MER rolling stock components.
A small exhibition in the adjacent courtyard tells the story of the MER’s involvement in transporting mail for the Post Office.
In 2003 the Laxey Mines Research Group began the restoration of the old Snaefell mine waterwheel on the Valley Gardens at Laxey. The Trust acted as the official fundraising body for the research group and the waterwheel.
A reopening ceremony took place in August 2006 when the waterwheel was named Lady Evelyn.
The trust recently published a new book outlining the full story of the Snaefell mine and the disaster that occurred there in 1897.
The Laxey and Lonan Heritage Trust is now in its 35th year and remains one of the main heritage organizations on the island.
The Trust is currently looking for volunteers to help operate the Great Laxey Mine Railway. Please come to the Mine Railway every Saturday for a casual chat, phone us on 624007 or email us on [email protected]
If you would like to join us as a friend of the Laxey and Lonan Heritage Trust, please call the gift shop and information center on Mines Road (open daily 10am-4pm daily until October, phone us at 624007 or send an e-mail [email protected] . The friends enjoy regular chats, walks, a 48-page newsletter and free rides on the mine railway.
Likewise, if you would like to donate to Trust funds or sponsor events or activities to help promote the Laxey and Lonan story, we would love to hear from you.