Case study: Lady Isabella Laxey Water Wheel

Our extensive millwright experience meant the Dorothea team were called in for the restoration of this 70 tonne water wheel.

Following an initial feasibility study on the water wheel in Laxley we designed, constructed and erected 200m of operable mine pumping-rod as part of the celebrations for Manx Heritage Year.

Subsequent water wheel restoration contracts have involved surveying and monitoring the 70 tonne waterwheel’s bearings and support structures over a number of years.

The “Lady Isabella” Waterwheel

Constructed in 1854 and designed by self-taught engineer Robert Casement, The Lady Isabella or Laxey Wheel is the largest water wheel in Europe and the last operable water wheel in the world. Tt was coined Lady Isabella after the then governor’s wife who had commissioned it.
The water wheel was built to serve the extensive mines that occupied this part of the Isle of Man. Rich with lead, zinc copper and silver, as the 600 odd miner’s dag deeper water gathered in the mine shafts and slowed down their efforts.

A coal fired steam engine would have been the industrious solution at the time, however, there was no coal on the Isle of Man and expensive importation wouldn’t have been viable. Water, it turns out, was in abundance!

As such, Casement created a system of channels designed to divert the hillside water streams out of the mine shafts and into a cistern. The water was then carried across a bridge and into the tower that sat above the waterwheel. As the water dropped in the wheel kicked off its revolutions.

This modern technology was a significant and progressive step towards the water turbine we know today. Most of the wheel is of timber construction. However, fundamental mechanical components were made out of metal.

The Lady Isabella has hefty vital statistics measuring 22 metres in diameter and 2 metres wide.  The wheel has a whopping 192 wooden buckets each with a capacity for 91 litres of water. She could handle 3 revs per minute and in turn lifted water from the nearly 1500 foot depth of the main shaft draining 250 gallons per minute into the Laxey River below.

Although Lady Isabella no longer pumps water, she still runs continually and remains the largest operating water wheel in the world.

The mine closed in 1929 and was acquired by a local man who turned the wheel into a tourist attraction. He sold the waterwheel to The Manx government in the 1960’s at which point water wheel restoration works began. The Manx National Heritage took over care of this historic piece of engineering in 1989.


Image courtesy of Manx National Heritage

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