Records of the Great Laxey Mining Company Limited

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The content consists of coal delivery and account books, general delivery books, general account books, employee pay books (miners, labourers, washers and surface labourers), miners pass books (miners' own record of work carried out by bargain, wages and deductions etc.), a letter book, payments listing book and setting books - which list the work agreed and contracted between bargain leaders and agent. A purchase ledger, measuring book and charge book are also included. Material such as lists of stock (powder and candles) received and issued to employees, stock account books, goods received book, tenders for lead ore, lists of material delivered to underground men, dynamite books and a wagon book are present.

Reports of meetings (extraordinary, general, half-yearly and annual meetings), articles of association, half yearly reports and accounts, directors’ reports, mangers’ reports, lists of shareholders and dividends paid, correspondence to shareholders and various businesses, invoices, proxy forms, dividend warrants and application forms for priority shares are included within the deposit. Material relating to various miner strikes include a ‘caution to miners’ poster, circular documents sent to the directors from the miners’ strike committee, circular documents to shareholders by the directors’, correspondence from management to senior persons and a statement from the miners’ on strike.

Other contents relate to the Great Laxey Mining Co. Ltd maritime activities and include material such as a ledger, account book, proxy forms and ore certificates from the Laxey Steamship Company Limited. Various insurance certificates regarding ore cargoes, a list of vessels for sale, a certificate of discharge of ore from a vessel and reports, letters and a claims statement detailing damages to a cargo (SS Reliance) ship are also present. Further items such as memorandum of association and a prospectus relating to the North Laxey Mine and Glen Cherry Consols Silver Lead Mining Company are included. Ephemera items consist of mining journals, scrapbooks and the newspaper the London Gazette.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Isle of Man has a long and well established history of mining with the eastern coastal village of Laxey at the fore front of mining for mineral deposits. Small-scale mining in Laxey began around the eighteenth century and by 1822 the Kirk Lonan Mining Association had been established, unifying business men with sufficient capital and resources to form a properly structured organisation which mined in an ordered and methodical manner. Digging for lead, zinc and copper proved fruitful and by 1833 the company was making a profit.

In 1849 the association was renamed as the Great Laxey Mining Company and George William Dumbell (1804-1887), a large shareholder, was appointed chairman. During this period the mine was constantly troubled with flooding and so to alleviate this the decision was made to construct a waterwheel. The ‘Lady Isabella’ (The Laxey Wheel) water wheel was completed in 1854. Measuring twenty-two metres in diameter it pumped water from the mineshafts. The construction of the Lady Isabella and the subsequent machine house in 1856 had an adverse effect on the company’s profitability. Dividends had totalled £4,000 in 1850 but by 1852-1856 this had fallen to £1,000 per year. In April 1855 and in November 1859 it became necessary to pay off some of the workforce and no further dividends were paid after 1856. Eager to stem financial ruin the shareholders announced in 1862 a reformation of the company, renaming it the Great Laxey Mining Company Limited. In the 1860s ore deposits of rich quality were discovered and a steady growth of both the output of the mine and financial reward for the shareholders was achieved. However by the 1870s the mine was plagued with accusations of mismanagement and dissatisfied workers. Production output continued to rise (peaking at 1875) but in 1872 the miners went on strike in protest at the directors’ refusal to increase worker wages. The miners worked eight hour shifts six days a week in dreadful conditions with only Good Friday and Christmas Day as holiday.

The 1880s-1890s saw a further decline in production and capital for the company. The quality of ore mined by the Great Laxey Mining Co. Ltd decreased; it had to compete with the importation of cheap foreign ores; and they were plagued by a declining workforce as Manxmen emigrated (to South Africa and North America) to seek better work. Operations were continually hindered by the breakage of the machinery and the effects of extreme weather (the ‘Big Snow’ and ‘Drought’ of 1895) conditions. By 1902 it was decided that the company should voluntarily wind up and form a new company with an increased capital (which could then be spent on purchasing and installing new equipment) whereby in 1903 the Great Laxey Limited was established. The new company mined on a small-scale for another seventeen years until it went into liquidation in 1920. In 1922 Robert Williamson (1841-1927), owner of the Laxey Glen Garden, purchased the mine, providing employment and preservation of community life until its final closure in 1929; his successors had continued the mine after his death in 1927. Most of the mining machinery was dismantled and sold for scrap however the Lady Isabella escaped this fate and in 1937 local builder Edwin Kneale (1905-1993) bought the wheel and saved her from demolition. The wheel was bought by the Isle of Man Government in 1965 for £5,000 and since the 1980s she has been preserved and maintained by Manx National Heritage.

Conditions Governing Access

No regulations or restrictions are implemented on this material.

Advance notification of a research visit is advisable by emailing library@mnh.gov.im

Other Finding Aids

Printed box list available.

Archivist's Note

The biographical information was gathered from Andrew Scarffe's The Great Laxey Mine (2004: 4-31) and Dollin Kelly’s (ed.) New Manx Worthies (2006: 271)

Fonds-level description created by Eleanor Williams (MNH Project Archivist), January 2016.

Related Material

Related material held by Manx National Heritage includes numerous library and archival resources on Island mining.

Other related material includes further papers of the Great Laxey Mining Co. Ltd (reference numbers: MS: 09402, MS 10630), and the 'Diaries of Robert Williamson and his daughter Edith' (reference number: MS 10019).