The Laxey Wheel is a large waterwheel located in the village of Laxey in the Isle of Man, a tiny island in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. At 72-foot-6-inch (22.1 m) in diameter and 6 feet (1.83 m) in width, it is the largest surviving working wheel of its kind in the world.
The wheel was designed by the Victorian engineer, Robert Casement, and built in 1854 to pump water from the waterlogged mineshafts. It was named "Lady Isabella" after the wife of Lieutenant Governor Charles Hope who was the island's governor at that time. The impressive structure found immediate popularity and has remained one of the Island’s most dramatic tourist attractions for over 150 years.
In the early 19th century, Laxey was rich with lead, zinc, and other metals, but mining was hampered by large veins of deep underground water that accumulated in the mine shafts. A means of removing the water to get at these deeper deposits was needed. With the industrial age in full swing, the ready answer was the use of a coal-fired steam engine. But on the Isle of Man, coal was not to be found, and the cost of importing it was prohibitive. Water, however, was abundant.
Self-taught engineer Robert Casement was tasked with the solution. Casement built a system of channels that diverted water from hillside streams including the local river into a cistern. From here, a pipe carried this water across a bridge and into a tower that reached above the great wheel. The flowing water then fell onto the top of the wheel into the buckets built into the rim, allowing the weight of the water to turn the wheel. A crankshaft, having a throw of 4 feet, connected to a long rod that transferred energy of the rotating wheel to the pumping station 600 feet away. Spinning at a leisurely 3 revolutions per minute, the wheel drove pumps that could lift water from a depth of 1,500 feet to the surface at an astounding 250 gallons per minute.
Although it no longer pulls water, the wheel still turns to entertain visitors before they climb to the top where they are rewarded with breathtaking views across the Glen Mooar Valley.
The Laxey Wheel, circa 1920. Photo credit
An undated picture of the Laxey Wheel. Photo credit
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